Helping COVID staff stay safe and secure

May 18 2020

HNE coronavirus tracing staff

As well as undertaking critical COVID-19 research, the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) is providing proactive logistical support to healthcare staff working at the coronavirus coalface, through its partnership with Hunter New England Health.

HNE Health Response Team members involved in contact tracing and monitoring for COVID-19 patients have been re-located to the HMRI Building, while a bespoke hand-sanitiser is being manufactured in-house and provided to John Hunter Hospital.

Conjoint Professor David Durrheim, Director of Health Protection and a senior public health researcher, says that having modern office space with compatible IT close to the John Hunter Hospital hub has enabled HNE Health to split COVID-19 public health staff across two separate sites.

It ensures that case and contact follow-up can continue, even if staff at one facility are directly impacted by the virus.

“We’re very grateful to HMRI for their partnership in responding to the biggest public health infectious disease challenge of the past 100 years,” Professor Durrheim notes.

“With the relaxing of some social distancing restrictions, the likelihood of further community COVID-19 cases has increased. It’s even more important, then, that we can identify new cases and their close contacts early on, so they can be quarantined.

“We don’t want to lose the hard-earned flattening of the COVID-19 curve in Australia.”

The sanitiser initiative began when national supply lines were initially deluged with demand and stocks across the health district began dwindling.

HMRI’s Facilities Management Team, along with laboratory scientist Dr Gerard Kaiko, sourced the three key ingredients – ethanol, glycerol and hydrogen peroxide – to mix large quantities of the hospital-grade sanitiser.

To date, almost 300 litres has been provided in 40-litre batches, each having a commercial value of around $1600.

“All three liquids are commonly used in laboratory work, and it’s a fairly straightforward process to mix them, but there’s a significant cost and time saving for the hospitals for us to make it and it’s one less thing they have to worry about,” Dr Kaiko said.

HMRI Director Professor Tom Walley said the support was testament to the close bond between the Institute, health service and the community.

“Ultimately, it’s about making the delivery of COVID-19 treatments and protocols more cost-efficient, convenient and effective,” he said.

“Our researchers are exploring long-term solutions to this pandemic, and we’re supporting the national ASCOT clinical trial, but at the same time we were ideally placed to make an immediate impact and help our partners protect their staff and continue to deliver quality care to patients.”

HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.