The ACT Government has engaged Canberra’s global health services company, Aspen Medical, to build a temporary COVID-19 Emergency Department on or near the Canberra Hospital campus, to be up and running next month.
Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said the Government had set aside $23 million to build and operate the facility, part of a $126 million boost for health services.
The move is an indication of how serious the government believes the coronavirus outbreak could get in the ACT and the number of patients the hospital system may have to deal with, particularly as the winter flu season takes hold to compound the situation.
Ms Stephen-Smith said input into the design and operation of the facility had been sought from experts at the World Health Organisation, as well as international clinical experts.
The government was working with Aspen Medical to finalise details of the facility including the model of care and the exact location, which was still to be decided.
But it would be sited on or next to the Canberra Hospital campus in Woden so patients could be moved quickly to ICU if required.
The facility, which could only take 72 hours to set up, would be integrated with ACT Health services and share staff.
“We are working with Aspen Medical to plan, design and deliver this new facility as quickly as possible,” Ms Stephen-Smith said. “We will be providing the community with updates as this work progresses.”
Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the facility would be dedicated to patients with moderate to severe cases of COVID-19 and would significantly increase the capability of acute services as demand increased on the ACT’s health care services.
He said the government was acting now to increase the capacity of the ACT’s health services so they can continue to provide emergency care for Canberrans throughout this pandemic.
“Our top priority is responding to COVID-19 in our community, ensuring we are doing all we can to protect the health of Canberrans,” he said.
“We don’t want to be in the sort of situation other cities around the world are currently in, trying to increase capacity when hospitals are already stretched.”
Ms Stephen-Smith said Aspen Medical had world-leading experience in the provision of emergency health services, and was known for its work locally and internationally.
Aspen Medical chief Glenn Keys welcomed the opportunity to work in Canberra. “It’s fantastic for two reasons”, Mr Keys said. “This is our home town and we’ve had 20 years as a business here. To be able to give critical support during the oncoming developments with COVID is humbling and also critical for the care patterns that ACT Health is developing”.
Mr Keys said Aspen Medical brought their global experience in dealing with epidemics to bear in the Canberra COVID-19 response. The partnership between Aspen Medical and the ACT Government would be collaborative regarding the design, staffing and equipment of the emergency unit.
“I think we’re in an unprecedented crisis – people talk about being on a war footing”, Mr Keys said.
“Other countries ahead of us in the pandemic’s progress have made mistakes. By the time they realised they needed additional resources, it was too late. The ACT government has read those lessons and got ahead of the jump. If we don’t need the resources, then fine. But if we do, we’re ready to go”.
In 2014, the Federal Government contracted Aspen Medical to operate the clinic it funded during the ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone.
It has already been working in the coronavirus theatre, this month providing health and wellbeing monitoring, security, food service and cleaning at a land-based quarantine facility in Japan for Princess Cruises.
Founded in 2003 by Glenn Keys, the company is a global provider of tailored health care services across a range of sectors.
The company’s website says it is the world leader in the delivery of healthcare solutions in any setting, particularly those that are remote, challenging or under-resourced.
It operates across Australia, the Pacific, Africa, the Gulf region, the UK and the USA, and employs more than 2,500 professionals.