By Mick Frewen, CareFlight Chief Executive Officer

This is a blog I never thought I’d have to write.

Globally we are in the midst of the biggest health crises we’ve ever faced. Our enemy is invisible yet deadly to many of our most vulnerable. Now, more than ever, we need to pull together.

I’m writing this from my home, instead of in the office. Like many of you, I too am working from home, along with many of our colleagues that can. I admit it feels a little surreal.

Only a few weeks ago, we were making plans for the year and organising our important fundraising campaigns and events that help CareFlight continue to save lives in the community. Now, many of those vital activities have been cancelled, and overall, our funding shortfall is looking to be more than $2 million. Our organisation is adapting, and we are working on new initiatives to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on CareFlight’s revenue so that we can continue to deliver our critical care essential services nationally.

The clinical team are leading the advice on how we should be working during this pandemic. They are focused on “going slow to go fast”.  The widespread need for personal protective equipment (PPE) has also meant that not just the clinical teams, but our aviation teams, are learning how to get PPE right and clean all equipment thoroughly so that our crews can respond safely to all our patients and deliver the best possible care every time.

Our COVID-19 response

In response to COVID-19, CareFlight has increased precautionary safety measures, created specific internal working groups and implemented a range of additional policies and procedures to protect our teams and patients. We continue to plan and implement preventative strategies as the landscape changes and more government-imposed restrictions are announced.

  • We’ve formed a specific COVID-19 Incident Response Team so our clinical and aviation teams train and work together to follow the latest guidance for assessing, treating and moving patients with COVID-19, and reduce the chance of accidental exposure.
  • We’ve solidified our COVID-19 Crisis Management Team Plan, and the COVID-19 Management Team ‘meets’ regularly to ensure all relevant government and clinical COVID-19 knowledge is shared consistently across the organisation, and that we can make timely and informed decisions to ensure continuity of our operations.
  • We’ve adopted new digital technologies to help us communicate regularly and stay connected. This includes a CareFlight COVID-19 Update newsletter that is sent to our teams to share accurate and up-to-date information.
  • We’ve launched an Online Learning Hub so our teams can continue to develop their skills and learn new ones to help them in their roles and adapt to changes in the workplace, including when working from home.
  • Our teams have also implemented measures to promote unity and connection among their colleagues. These include regular communications, virtual lunchrooms and social media for lighthearted relief, quizzes and staff questionnaires.

What does COVID-19 mean for our services?

Our aeromedical and healthcare services remain fully operational nationally. We are working with the Federal, State and Territory governments, as well as our partners and clients to deliver additional resources, including assets and staff, and to ensure we can support a comprehensive approach to the ongoing and unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19.

  • We’ve created comprehensive Base Access Management Plans with identified zones to ensure social distancing at all our bases. All non-operational staff are working from home to minimise non-essential contact with our frontline crews.
  • We are protecting our teams and patients by PPE for transfers involving patients with any respiratory illness (including COVID-19). Our clinical teams are also working with our pilots and practicing the correct way to put on and remove PPE. It’s a specialised technique, and in the current landscape it is vital we get it right every time. Our aircraft are methodically cleaned and decontaminated after every mission.
  • We are working closely with our partners and clients to ensure we communicate effectively with the communities we directly support, particularly remote Indigenous communities in the Top End of the Northern Territory, about the additional preventative measures we’ve put in place and why we are wearing PPE.
  • We have had to unfortunately cancel our community services such as hangar and base visits, school and service club presentations and community engagement and fundraising events. This is to ensure we are protecting our crews and these groups through effective social distancing during this pandemic.  These important events will commence again once safe to do so.
  • Our clinical education and training programs have been modified where possible so they can be delivered online, and we will reschedule our practical simulation-based training and MediSim workshops once we know more about upcoming months.

This is a difficult time for so many people. We are seeing the terrible impact of this virus affect our businesses, schools, communities and families. For some, it comes on top of one of the worst droughts in recent times, a terrifying bushfire season – and for others, heartbreaking floods.

Like me, you probably feel our country hasn’t really had a chance to take a breath between disasters.

But through it all, the one thing that has given me great pride is seeing how everyday Australians come together to help one another when trouble comes. It’s the spirit that drives each and every member of our CareFlight crew, from our pilots and doctors to our staff on the ground, and those keeping our operations running from home.

These are tough times. First and foremost, I want you to stay safe and well.