Under the ‘most difficult’ conditions of her 30-year nursing career, Sandi Hatfield stepped up – and in December 2021 she was recognised with a National Safety Award of Excellence for her efforts.
A surgical nurse at St John of God Berwick Hospital, Sandi was one of the last of the ‘old school’ ENs who went through the Melbourne School for Enrolled Nurses program in Toorak. She had always wanted to be a nurse but admits that she ‘did look at working in OHS very early in the piece, but probably didn’t have the experience to really acknowledge how important it was’.
She’s since been able to seamlessly combine her two interests: she has been a Health and Safety Rep (HSR) and an ANMF Job Rep at St John of God for nearly 20 years, and about 15 years ago she started running OHS safe patient handling instruction and training. ‘I’ve always been very proactive on the safety message,’ she says.
Indeed, in 2021, to further enhance her OHS qualifications Sandi completed the Certificate IV in Work Health and Safety run by the ANMF Education Centre in conjunction with WorkSafe Victoria. This bespoke course is purpose-built for the healthcare environment and delivers a nationally recognised qualification. Sandi jumped at the opportunity – not least because a WorkSafe Victoria and ANMF-sponsored scholarship meant it was free.
She speaks highly of the course, saying ‘it was designed for nurses and midwives in the job who want to extend their role in staff protection and knowledge of their legislative rights. The sharing of knowledge and experiences across a broad group of practising registered and enrolled nurses passionate about their careers and workplace safety was revitalising and inspiring. These people have become a support network for me to reach out to in times of doubt in the future.’
A COVID test
Justifiably proud of the work she’s done, Sandi put it all to the test at a moment’s notice when COVID arrived at her hospital in July 2020 in the form of 30 aged care residents, most of whom were covid positive, and all transferred from their facility with little warning.
Explaining, she recalls that the Department of Health rang the hospital CEO, former ED and trauma nurse Lisa Norman, and said ‘we’re down here, onsite at the home, and we’re loading [the residents] up.’ Norman asked for a couple of hours to prepare, Sandi says, but ‘the department said “we’re loading them up. They’ll be there in 45 minutes.”’
The hospital’s emergency preparedness team therefore had half an hour to convert an orthopaedics ward into a makeshift COVID ward to welcome the frightened and very unwell residents. Sandi saw the need for staff support as well as nursing care, volunteered to redeploy her time to be the new ward’s HSR and, with her husband’s support, put herself in the COVID line of fire.
‘My proudest achievement is that no one got sick, no one got hurt. There was not one injury.’
Over the coming weeks it became obvious that a further new ward was required – for COVID patients who were not acutely unwell anymore but not yet ready to be discharged back to their care facility. A ward at St John of God Berwick Hospital’s old campus at Gibb Street, which was empty in preparation for a redevelopment, was repurposed and opened within a couple of weeks in what became known as the Langmore Project. Sandi once again volunteered as the new ward’s HSR (with the support of her usual surgical ward team, who were also redeploying during the same period).
The aim for this ward was to create a more welcoming environment for the now recovering aged care residents than is typical of a hospital. ‘We wanted to put them back into a nursing home environment, a home environment,’ Sandi says. But it also had to be safe. The residents didn’t need ‘to have all the fancy recliner chairs’, but every bed had to be mechanical, appropriate slings and rechargeable batteries for the hoists were necessary, and slide sheets needed to be readily available – and replaced regularly; the facility’s fire plans required updating, and the staff needed to know the emergency procedures, including safe building ingress and egress.
The latter may seem a minor point, but with the ward primarily staffed by healthcare professionals from other St John of God hospitals around the state – ‘physiotherapists and theatre staff and all these wonderful allied health people’ – Sandi’s familiarity with the building was vital. ‘I’d worked at that Langmore facility for 20 years, and I knew it really well.’
The relocated staff needed to be trained on the available equipment, so in the ward’s first week of operations Sandi trained and inducted more than 50 staff, helping to ‘transition their clinical skills into home nursing skills’.
National Safety recognition
St John of God Health Care annually recognises select staff with its Tony Howarth Leadership in Health, Safety and Wellness Awards. Sandi won a CEO 2020 award for her support in ‘this critical moment in our hospital history’. Her OHS manager, Catherine Campbell, subsequently nominated her for the National Safety Council of Australia’s Ian Chisholm Award for the Best Individual WHS Achievement, in recognition of her ‘pivotal’ actions in helping to keep everyone safe.
When informed that she’d been accepted as a finalist, she admits she did cry. ‘I do get overwhelmed by it,’ she says, ‘because I feel like it’s just my role. As nurses, we do our job and then we sort of pack it away and put it back on the shelf. So when the nomination came through a good six or nine months later, I was like “what? Why?!”’
As one of the few individuals receiving awards (among dozens of businesses and organisations), Sandi says the presentation event in Sydney was quite intimidating. She had to give a speech in front of about 300 people. ‘It was very overwhelming, but in my speech I mentioned that my proudest achievement is that no one got sick, no one got hurt. There was not one injury.’
And that is the true award.