Herding RATs

17 March 2022

Following the opening of the state’s borders on 23 December and the arrival of the Omicron variant, COVID-positive tests in the community began a sudden ascent. Northern Adelaide Local Hospital Network (NALHN) had prepared well for this but now faced the fundamental task of protecting patients while ensuring that staff remained healthy.

Over the Christmas/New Year period, NALHN secured its first Rapid Antigen Tests (RAT) supplies. These tests would provide a quick result for staff, reassuring them they were COVID-free or an instant warning that they should stay away and undergo a PCR test.

Given some uncertainty about supply and the decision that staff would test themselves before each second shift, the RAT kits would require careful distribution.

As they had done since 1959, when they made curtains and bedspreads and repaired thousands of hospital items, the Lyell McEwin Volunteer Association answered the call.

Early in the New Year, the volunteers returned from their summer break. Since then, committed long-term coordinators at all three locations have worked with an average 16 volunteers a day for more than 1500 hours to date, patiently unpacking large boxes containing hundreds of kits, then sorting components into paper bags containing three kits before repacking into the larger boxes for delivery around the network.

Volunteers responded instantly to the first call-out to assist urgently over the first weekend, and those who were still awaiting their booster were accommodated at Thrifty V, one of the off-site locations utilised for packing. Their commitment to NALHN saw many volunteers doing multiple RAT packing shifts, in addition to their existing roles in the wards.

It is a repetitive task but one vital to the ongoing health of NALHN patients and staff.

LMVA volunteers from left Marlene Diane Patricia Serena packing Rapid Antigen Tests in the Modbury Hospital basement
LMVA volunteers (from left) Marlene, Diane, Patricia, Serena packing RATs in the Modbury Hospital basement.

Andrew McGill, NALHN’s Director of Nursing (Operations) and COVID-19 Program Lead, said that the LMVA offered their assistance without hesitancy.

“Their only question was ‘how can we help?’” said Andrew.

“Over the first weekend, the volunteers separated and repackaged 32,000 kits.”

“To date, the LMVA has been operating over three sites to prepare RAT packs for staff, volunteering on average 5 to 7 hours per day (seven days per week) and have repacked five separate stock deliveries totalling 139,600 individual tests. The LMVA is currently working on a 6th delivery consisting of a further 33,600 tests for our staff to access.”

“NALHN is extremely fortunate to have a partner that goes to such extraordinary lengths to assist and help our staff, patients, and community every day – rain, hail, or pandemic! And we thank them for their brilliant efforts.”

In addition to serving the Lyell McEwin and Modbury Hospitals, the Volunteer Association provides services to James Nash House, Northgate, Northern Mental Health Services, the Playford Vaccination Clinic, and other Northern Adelaide Local Health Network sites.