A Tasmanian nurse in Melbourne has spoken of the stress of regularly being the only overnight registered nurse in an aged care facility with more than 150 residents, including about 20 who are COVID-positive.
Kate Lee is one of two nurses from a hospital in Launceston who are filling aged care staff shortages in Melbourne for at least four weeks, working 15-hour shifts for up to 70 hours a week.
The aged care facility has had up to 30 of its staff members test positive for COVID-19 and its workforce is down 50 per cent, which prompted an urgent national call out for available nurses to travel to Victoria to assist.
Mrs Lee arrived last Friday, and said the situation was far more difficult than she expected.
"Being the only RN - although there are carers on at times - in charge of all of those residents can be stressful, as residents may have falls overnight, they have to be reviewed.
"With our COVID-positive residents, they can become quite unwell quite quickly, so fulfilling their increased care needs can be stressful.
"There's a lot of residents that have severe dementia so they're not entirely aware of what is occurring, but others are quite cognitively OK, and for them it's awful. They're stuck by themselves, their families can't come to see them."
Mrs Lee could be required to attend to at least 40 patients per night, with each visit requiring her to completely change her personal protective equipment, a process that takes about five minutes each time.
COVID-positive residents have also died since her arrival, which Mrs Lee said was incredibly difficult to experience, particularly as their family members were unable to be with them.
The aged care sector had been subjected to criticism during the COVID pandemic in relation to staffing and other issues, but Mrs Lee - a representative of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation - said the management of the aged care facility was doing all it could.
"Management are doing the best they can in the circumstances that they're in, they can only do so much when so many of their staff were struck down by COVID," she said.
Nurses wait for go-ahead to travel to Melbourne
While more nurses in Launceston and Tasmania more broadly have applied to assist in Melbourne, they have been required to remain at home to ensure staffing levels were sufficient locally.
The Department of Health released an expressions of interest for nurses in the Tasmanian Health Service earlier this month to fill staff shortages in Melbourne within 48 hours.
Mrs Lee said there was a lot of interest from nurses, but only two from Launceston had been able to travel at this stage.
"There's quite a few nurses I work with back home who have applied and wanted to come, but due to needing to maintain appropriate staff levels in the government system, it's been a bit hard to let lots of people come over," she said.