Agency worker nurse on the frontline
When Irish nurse Rachel Rushe registered for agency work to help finance her 12-month stay in Australia on a working visa.
Within weeks, she found herself on the frontline of one of the nation’s worst COVID-19 outbreaks and involved in an experience which would change her life and her perception of agency work.
Rachel was hired through Health Solutions Group Australia to work for Anglicare at Newmarch House in western Sydney, providing a communications link between the facility, its isolated elderly residents and their distressed families on the outside.
Within a fortnight of starting work, she was heading up a team of 10 agency nurses responsible for communications and although the worst of Newmarch House’s pandemic crisis had passed, there was still plenty of work to be done.
“It was completely different to anything any of us had done,” said the 27-year-old RN, who worked in the emergency department and haematology ward of a Dublin hospital before starting her Australian adventure.
“Newmarch House acknowledged that there was a shortfall in its communication with residents’ families, who were terrified about what was happening to their loved ones.
“They employed RNs to open up the lines of communication because a lot of the families had medical questions and we were able to provide them with clinical updates, as well as letting them know how their mother or father, husband or wife, were going generally.”
The team was based onsite at Newmarch House, where the COVID-19 outbreak claimed the lives of 19 elderly people, after 37 residents and 34 staff tested positive to the virus.
“It really helped the families, knowing we could get things done,” Rachel said.
“We rang families of residents who had tested positive to COVID-19 twice a day to give clinical updates and the families of those who had tested negative got one call a day.
“A lot of the families were anxious, angry and upset because visiting their loved ones had been the focus of their life, and suddenly they couldn’t do it any more at a time when people were dying from the virus.
“So, we were doing a lot of counselling, as well as providing lines of communication.
“A lot of the residents couldn’t use phones because of their health – things like dementia - so they couldn’t tell their families how they were feeling.
“We were able to let them know how they were, what mood they were in and what medical problems they might have had as well as providing news on their test results.
“We got really close to the families and it was nice to go through it with them.
“When a swab came back negative, it was nice to share the good news.”
But with the good news came times of heartbreak.
One of Rachel’s lasting memories is discovering an elderly female resident who had contracted COVID-19 was a fellow Irishwoman and going out of her way to establish a connection.
“I couldn’t go into her room, so I stood outside her window and talked to her, telling her stories about Ireland and what it’s like there today,” she said.
“I sang Danny Boy and Fields of Athenry to her through the glass as she sat in her chair.
“I could see her lips moving to the lyrics and I could see from her face, how much she enjoyed it and how it raised her spirits.
“Sadly, she passed away a few days later.”
Rachel says her time at Newmarch House, which came to an end in early August, would always stay with her and had also changed her understanding of the importance of agency workers.
“Being able to help families through such difficult times was a great experience and when restrictions eased, many of them made a point of coming to see us and telling us how much the connection we provided had meant to them,” she said.
“As an agency nurse, it was very different to what I expected. I was in high-level communications and meetings. We were all in positions of great responsibility at the frontline and I was communicating with the CEO and key stakeholders of Anglicare.
“The team at Newmarch did a fantastic job – the management, the nurses and physios and care staff were absolutely amazing and worked as one big team.
“I will always look back on it as our small team playing a vital role in a very tragic situation.
“It was certainly something I will never forget.”