Coota Hospital.

Murrumbidgee Local Health District has provided a Media Release (MR) outlining their stance on “temporary changes” that will be made at 3 hospitals in their district, including Batlow, Coota and Jerilderie.

The changes and the Media Release make no mention of the state wide strike by nurses which was held again as recently as Thursday March 31.

The closest hospital to our readership is Cootamundra, covered by the Coota Times newspaper’s catchment area.

Dated April 4, the MR states, “The Murrumbidgee Local Health District (MLHD) advises that temporary changes to services will take place at three of the District’s health facilities over the coming weeks to address workforce shortages.

In addition to these shortages, further pressures to staffing are now occurring due to furloughed staff and unplanned leave caused by rising levels of COVID-19 transmission in the community.

From Monday 11 April, overnight emergency department (ED) opening times will be temporarily reduced at Batlow and Jerilderie Multipurpose Services. In addition, around 50 non-urgent elective surgical patients at Cootamundra Hospital will be offered their surgeries at other nearby hospitals.

The temporary changes at Batlow, Jerilderie and Cootamundra will support the dedicated staff and ensure the continuation of safe, high-quality healthcare services for all patients while nursing recruitment continues.”

It goes on to say, “MLHD will continue to work closely with NSW Ambulance to maintain 24/7 access to emergency care and facilitate rapid transfers to the closest specialist care centre when required.

Non-urgent elective surgical patients at Cootamundra Hospital will be offered their surgeries at other nearby hospitals for approximately 8 weeks commencing April 11. Patients impacted by these changes will continue to receive their surgery within the required clinical timeframes and will be contacted to discuss alternative hospitals. If required, financial assistance and support can be offered with transport and accommodation.

MLHD assures communities of its intent to restore services as soon as possible. The temporary service changes are in place to ensure wellbeing of our existing staff while allowing for new staff to be trained, upskilled and supported.

Regional Australia is experiencing significant workforce shortages and MLHD is no exception.  We have established a Critical Vacancy Taskforce to work on short and medium-term solutions to boost workforce capacity.

MLHD offers a number of incentives to attract staff, including relocation payments, interim accommodation, and education and career pathways. Short-term contracts are also offered to people who would like to ‘come and try’ working in the rural sector.

Several agency staff have recently taken permanent contracts after completing placements at our facilities, and 54 new graduate Registered Nurses commenced in February across MLHD. We continue to make every effort, including through the Critical Vacancy Taskforce, to recruit the additional staff we need.

 Our clinicians, staff and managers work hard to ensure that people living in their communities have access to the best clinical care available and experience optimal health outcomes. Our workforce have strong connections to the communities in which they live, and we acknowledge their dedication and commitment to delivering exceptional care to the people they serve.

The wellbeing of our staff is a priority and we have a range of strategies to check in with our staff members, including their wellbeing and workload. This includes change-of-shift team safety huddles, one-to-one conversations with managers, workload committees, work health and safety supports, and roving chaplains.

We thank the community for their support and understanding during this challenging time.”