Feature, Orthoptics Australia

Louise Brennan: Caring for COVID kids in New South Wales


Westmead senior paediatric orthoptist LOUISE BRENNAN was redeployed to a COVID response team at the peak of the Sydney outbreak last year. She recounts the opportunity to support isolating households.

I have worked through a range of challenges within my 27 years as an orthoptist at the Eye Clinic at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, but nothing compares to my experience at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in NSW.

Louise Brennan.

My ‘business as usual’ role is in the Eye Clinic working as part of the ophthalmology team, who see more than 10,000 children each year. But for a 12-week period from August 2021, my role shifted completely.

When COVID-19 cases began to rise in children, I put my hand up to be redeployed to the virtualKIDS ‘CORT’ team (COVID-positive Outpatient Response Team), to help support the increasing patient numbers. Lockdown, coupled with lengthy wait times for online groceries and essentials, meant that some households affected by COVID-19 needed extra and immediate help.

In my role as logistics coordinator for the CORT team, I helped organise the distribution of much needed items such as formula, nappies, personal care, medical equipment and emergency supplies of food for COVID-affected children and their families. This also involved working with many partners and other support agencies to coordinate requirements for families.

Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network cared for thousands of children through virtualKIDS; a collaborative service providing healthcare, virtually and in-person, to children who have tested positive for COVID-19 but are well enough to be cared for at home.

Staff from all areas of the network were redeployed into emergent roles to meet the surge in demand of caring for COVID-19 affected patients and families. With the demands for care vast and various, this presented staff with the opportunity to extend their scope-of-practice laterally and embrace skills not traditionally within their chosen profession.

Orthoptist Louise Brennan in PPE.

The virtualKIDS logistics team consisted of staff from ophthalmology, rehabilitation, cardiology, nursing, orthotics, audiology, speech pathology, health promotion, pharmacy, allied health assistants, administration, transport and porters, to name a few. Not only did the team support children in Sydney, but also health colleagues in rural and regional areas of NSW as cases increased in areas outside of Sydney.

The team covered a seven-day roster in the peak of the pandemic response, enabling emergency logistics supplies to be picked, packed, documented and delivered to isolating families. Other team members worked on telehealth care for COVID-positive patients and families, and some were part of ‘Flying Squad’ teams, made up of doctors and nurses who visited homes to provide in- person care and deliver the essentials that we in the logistics team had organised for distribution.

The highlight of my time in virtualKIDS CORT logistics was the genuine impact the team were able to make on families going through an incredibly difficult time. It was satisfying knowing we had made a real difference to the parent and carer’s ability to care for their children.

I enjoyed the challenge of the role and meeting lots of new staff who came from a wide background in health, who I normally would not work with in my substantive orthoptic role. We all came to the team with the common goal of helping others. I am proud our team contributed to the community and made that time a little easier for children and families doing it tough in isolation.

To date, more than 12,000 children have received care through the virtualKIDS service since late June 2021. More than 2,000 parcels have also been delivered to families across Sydney, reaching north into the Hawkesbury region, as far south as the Illawarra, and west into the Lower Blue Mountains through to the Sydney beaches. The support reached patients and families further afield too, providing toys and other goodies to rural and regional NSW.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Louise Brennan is a Senior Paediatric Orthoptist at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead.

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