COVID-19 nurse says she's been 'hung out to dry'

DID the State Government jump the gun in suspending and publicly rebuking the Rockhampton nurse who tested positive for coronavirus?

Has she been made the scapegoat for wider problems at Rockhampton North aged care home? I suspect so.

And so does the president of the Nurses' Professional Association of Queensland, Phill Tsingos. He and his legal team have had several interviews with the 52-year-old nurse who says she has become the scapegoat for multiple failures at the home.

"They are certainly looking at a blame game and I am the target," the nurse said in an interview with Tsingos.

She also told him she had been referred to the Crime and Corruption Commission after being suspended for returning to work before receiving her COVID-19 test results.

Ambulances queue outside of North Rockhampton Nursing Centre as the transfer of some patients started following the nurse’s positive test results.
Ambulances queue outside of North Rockhampton Nursing Centre as the transfer of some patients started following the nurse’s positive test results.

In a statement that will rock health chiefs, the nurse also said there was a possibility, however remote, that she contracted the virus at the state-run home because infection controls there were poor, with visiting doctors not signing in and failing to use the hand sanitiser.

She and other nurses at the facility told the NPAQ there was a shortage of protective masks and gloves. Doors were frequently left open and dementia patients sometimes wandered on to the streets.

And she said she was invited by superiors to make up her own mind whether or not she should return to work.

"She asked her superiors for advice and did not get any, so she wrongly presumed it was OK to go to work,'' Tsingos said.

"In hindsight, it was not the wisest decision."

Here I should declare that in my role as a private media consultant, I occasionally advise the NPAQ.

However, I did not speak to the nurse and nor did I sit in on any of the interviews.

Tsingos wrote to Jeannette Young, Queensland Chief Health Officer, and Alan MacSporran QC, the CCC chairman, telling them the nurse was "the subject of a smear campaign".

"She has been vilified on social media, perhaps unlawfully, after Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk derided her on national morning television," he wrote.

"She points to more critical comments by the Premier on Brisbane television news, and further unflattering comments by Health Minister Steven Miles in telecasts streamed on major news services from the Parliamentary Speaker's Green.

Tsingos said Steven Miles and Annastacia Palaszczuk made unflattering comments about the nurse. Picture: AAP/Dan Peled
Tsingos said Steven Miles and Annastacia Palaszczuk made unflattering comments about the nurse. Picture: AAP/Dan Peled

"In isolation, and in quarantine, she is unable to defend herself. She has even been barred from talking to supportive colleagues and has no family in this state. She is alone."

Tsingos said the nurse sought anonymity and had taken out a restraining order against a man. She did not want him to know her whereabouts and had moved to Rockhampton to begin a new life. Tsingos said the NPAQ had assembled a robust legal team, and urged Young and MacSporran to consider "mitigating circumstances".

"We must also alert you to some profoundly disturbing practices involving poor infection controls at North Rockhampton," he wrote.

"There was a lack of PPE (personal protective equipment) and weak entry testing. There were little, if any, temperature tests and no questionnaires about possible contacts with pandemic risk groups.

North Rockhampton Nursing Centre.
North Rockhampton Nursing Centre.

"Nurses were urged to put masks in plastic bags and reuse them because they were in short supply. This was appalling advice. Many nurses did not wear gloves.

"(She) (name redacted) also noticed doctors refusing to sign in or out, or sanitise their hands. There is even a possibility that (she) was infected at the Queensland Government's own North Rockhampton facility. This needs to be investigated.

"I don't have to remind you that Queensland Health has a duty of care to nursing staff as well as patients.''

The nurse does not want the affair to become a political slanging match, but harsh words have already been traded. Ros Bates, LNP attack dog (sorry, Ros) and shadow health minister, has already dished it up to Palaszczuk in Parliament.

Said Tsingos: "Our initial investigations show the nurse was unwell and suffering an acute back injury when she contracted the virus.

"So we believe your decision to suspend her was hasty and unjust, and may very well have contributed to a deterioration in her health. As an emergency care nurse of 26 years, I believe she is fragile."

Tsingos said the nurse was stressed out, and suffered sudden weight loss and elevated blood pressure.

"May I suggest (her suspension) was for political reasons, not medical ones?

"(She) says straight up she has been made a scapegoat. We agree.

"She asked for advice about returning to work and was not given any, so presumed it was OK to go back.

"Her medical certified for two days' leave of absence had expired. She also knew she would have no patient contact because she was working in reception on administrative data-entry duties behind glass, away from patients.

"(She), unwisely in our view, returned to duty at the aged-care home before her test results were known.

"However, to my mind, it was almost as if she was invited to do so.

"When asked if she could return, she was explicitly told: 'I can't give you that answer you will have to decide that yourself'.

"She had no temperature. She had no other symptoms.

"She informs us other staff who had been tested were asked to return to work before they had they got their results."

Originally published as COVID-19 nurse: I've been hung out to dry

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