20 Jan 2022

Gisborne Hospital expects up to third of staff may be off work in Omicron outbreak

6:44 pm on 20 January 2022

Hauora Tairāwhiti is anticipating up to a third of staff might be out of action ill or isolating when Omicron inevitably sweeps into the community.

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Hauora Tairāwhiti is preparing for when Omicron arrives. Photo: RNZ Pacific / Sela Jane Hopgood

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is echoing what epidemiologists have been saying for weeks - it is not a matter of if the variant spreads, but when.

Meanwhile, district health boards (DHBs) and aged care facilities have been watching and learning as Australia grapples with an outbreak over the ditch.

Hauora Tairāwhiti chief executive Jim Green said the DHB was preparing for up to a third of staff to be off work at some point when there is an Omicron outbreak.

"The feedback we're getting from Australia and other places is that you could have up to a third of your staff away at any given time through sickness or having to isolate due to the virus being within their home," he said.

"We're looking at every service around what would that mean and what we'd do if we got up to those levels."

Green expected Omicron would bring a boom in case numbers, but less demand on the region's six intensive care unit beds.

"We're aware that the rate of hospitalisation and need for ventilation is likely to be lower for Omicron, but the total numbers of people will be higher. We're looking at modelling around the load on the hospital and staffing that's required."

Hutt Hospital Covid-19 ICU ventilator

Hauora Tairāwhiti chief executive Jim Green does not expect there will be high demand on the region's six Intensive Care Unit beds when Omicron sweeps into the community. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

He kept a keen eye on food supply chains to ensure patients could be fed, and the DHB had stocked up on medical and clinical supplies.

Aged care provider Ryman Healthcare also planned for gaps.

Chief operating officer Cheyne Chalmers estimated between 10 and 14 percent of staff could be off work due to infection or exposure to the virus, judging by the impact on the company's retirement villages in Victoria and Melbourne.

She said 12-hour rosters and shifting team members into different roles would be put in place to help fill any gaps.

"We're planning if we have 10 percent of our team off, or 20 or 30 percent," she said.

"But it's not just the number of staff you have off, it's the type of staff, whether it's your registered nurses, carers or kitchen workers. The type of workers you have off will determine what impact it has and how you manage it."

Chalmers said booster shots and access to rapid antigen tests and PPE were a vital part of their protection plan, while facilities would likely restrict visitors to those on compassionate grounds.

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