COVID-19 Surge Centre insurance we had to have

Ian Bushnell 24 May 2020 40
COVID-19 Surge Centre

The front of the COVID-19 Surge Centre at Garran: better safe than sorry. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

It was labelled a white elephant early on, by a former Labor chief minister no less, but now the temporary COVID-19 Surge Centre is ready and waiting. And health chiefs hope it stays that way.

The $10.5 million facility on Garran Oval, with another $3.5 million worth of equipment and supplies thrown in, was commissioned from local health services company Aspen Medical when COVID-19 posed a much greater threat than it does now.

If it does go live there is another $9 million in the bag to staff and run it through the winter when the flu season usually puts Canberra’s hospital system under the hammer.

With no new cases for some time and restrictions easing, it would be easy to say in hindsight that the ACT Government panicked and millions of dollars later, and Garran without its playing fields, the bespoke coronavirus ED is now a testament to bureaucratic waste and overkill.

While unofficial opposition leader Jon Stanhope’s critique that it would never have been needed if the government had invested in the health system and Canberra Hospital as originally intended has some merit, to suggest the government got it wrong on the surge centre when it is far from clear that Australia and the ACT is out of the woods when it comes to this virus would be churlish.

Faced with what was happening, and is still happening overseas, and modelling that showed the scale of the disaster if tough action was not taken, our governments actions should be celebrated considering where we are now.

Resuscitation beds

Resuscitation beds inside the centre.

Part of that was the decision to take out the insurance policy of having enough medical capacity to cope with the number of COVID-19 cases the ACT might face.

Even as we move to open up the economy, the risks remain that the virus will return and, combined with the flu, put our EDs and hospital wards under pressure.

For those gung-ho about returning to normal, the warnings about a second or more wave are still being sounded.

We may have dodged a bullet so far but in this most unpredictable of years no one knows what may come next.

Some consolation to the bean counters should be that the surge centre is now an ACT asset that when the crisis passes can be disassembled, stored, rolled out quickly if needed again and adapted for whatever health threat is looming, and who can say that won’t happen after what has transpired?

For the residents of Garran, losing the oval for a time must grate but health officials had sound reasons for siting it there and it is time for them to accept the fact that they live next to the ACT’s biggest medical campus, and that will always have implications for them, whether that be ambulance traffic or helicopters flying overhead.

The government has reiterated that the facility is temporary and the oval will be remediated.

Whatever happens, the surge centre is an impressive piece of work that also gives Canberra Health Services valuable experience in pandemic crisis management.

As insurance policies go, it is worth it.


What's Your Opinion?


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40 Responses to COVID-19 Surge Centre insurance we had to have
Phil Baker Phil Baker 6:37 pm 26 May 20

Opening up the popcorn and watching!

rsm1105 rsm1105 7:35 am 26 May 20

This sort of sentiment also totally ignores the concept of opportunity cost.

rsm1105 rsm1105 7:34 am 26 May 20

“We don’t put a price on people’s lives.”

If this is true wouldn’t this mean hospital resourcing, generally speaking, would be boundless?

Christopher Cuba Rabanal Christopher Cuba Rabanal 7:54 pm 25 May 20

We don’t put a price on people’s lives. This is the teachings of our great society and Nation. So let’s not start now.

Carl Ostermann Carl Ostermann 5:23 pm 25 May 20

Considering the fact that the ACT is surrounded by NSW and the border has to be open for surrounding towns, it is in our best interest to keep the surge centre ready...

pikay pikay 3:07 pm 25 May 20

It’s unclear why this was built while Canberra’s private hospitals were standing idle with all nonessential procedures on hold – how much surge do we really need? Were there better options than a
Garran oval pop up?

m6447 m6447 2:59 pm 25 May 20

Whilst the good residents of Garran do need to “accept the fact that they live next to the ACT’s biggest medical campus, and that will always have implications for them, whether that be ambulance traffic or helicopters flying overhead.”, perhaps Canberra Hospital need to acknowledge they are sited in a residential suburb and should acknowledge the implications of that and thus consult earlier and and more proactively with their local residential community. Their track record thus far is appalling in this regard.

liberalsocialist liberalsocialist 1:32 pm 25 May 20

Firstly, this was an insurance policy.
Secondly, this has just proved what the system is capable of, in the event of another outbreak of some virus or other catastrophe.
Thirdly, the plans for this site, and all the requirements that were necessary for it to come into being – with realistic timeframes and scenarios – are now locked away for future issues.

This has been, if nothing else, an invaluable practice set-up for all the states and territories to learn from. Happy it occured.

Stephen Page-Murray Stephen Page-Murray 12:30 pm 25 May 20

It’s insurance. Something you hope you never need.

Lynn Stape Lynn Stape 12:15 pm 25 May 20

May we never need it but if it saves one life it will be worth every penny spent on it.

David Perkins David Perkins 11:52 am 25 May 20

A prudent government is a good government. The virus is going to be around for quite some time. People will let their guard down. Better to keep the facility in mothballs even if it costs s bit.

Louise Bannister Louise Bannister 10:48 am 25 May 20

This will not be our only pandemic! I am relieved our government has taken this action as a precaution! Fingers tightly crossed that it remains unneeded as we head into Winter!

Cary Elliot Johnson Cary Elliot Johnson 10:43 am 25 May 20

No white elephant because the government has planned to build on this site for some time. I’m putting money on the “shed” being used as ward overflow as things start getting back to normality

Nick Anderson Nick Anderson 10:42 am 25 May 20

This was always going to be a lose-lose for the Government.

Build it: get accused of wasting millions of taxpayer money for an over the top project.

Don’t build it: get attacked for failing to protect the community and being unprepared for a second wave.

Personally, I’m glad they built it. Hope we don’t ever need to use it though

    Amy Willmott Amy Willmott 2:46 pm 25 May 20

    Nick Anderson Couldn’t agree with you more.

Jenny Bolin Jenny Bolin 10:09 am 25 May 20

Maybe it could be used to help reduce the long lists of surgeries’

    Brydie Kelly Brydie Kelly 11:52 am 25 May 20

    Jenny Bolin but it's not an operating theatre.

    Jenny Bolin Jenny Bolin 1:08 pm 25 May 20

    Brydie Kelly No, I was thinking more about for post op care or medical patients

    Brydie Kelly Brydie Kelly 1:18 pm 25 May 20

    Jenny Bolin I guess the forward thinking would be that if they had recovering patients in there, and we were to need it for Covid-19 patients, the post op patients would be at risk.

    Jenny Bolin Jenny Bolin 1:37 pm 25 May 20

    Brydie Kelly I might be wrong, but I think if COVID-19 cases started to escalate there would be the opportunity to shut down the theatres again, and clear beds. Patients could be sent home under the care of hospital in the home if they were well enough.

April Littrell April Littrell 9:23 am 25 May 20

so our government can't repurpose it for the homeless or something in the meantime?!

    Paula Simcocks Paula Simcocks 9:33 am 25 May 20

    April Littrell too much valuable equipment, can’t be fiddled with. Better to repurpose schools or empty hotels

    Steve Wood Steve Wood 11:18 am 25 May 20

    April Littrell please stop using commonsense, because it's w wasted with the MLA and will only add to stress and/or frustration of local government decision making process

    Brydie Kelly Brydie Kelly 11:52 am 25 May 20

    April Littrell it's a medical centre. While I understand the sentiment, if they fill it with homeless people and then it is needed, they would need to put all those people back on the streets and fully sanitize and set it up again. There's just no "meantime" unfortunately.

    Stephen Page-Murray Stephen Page-Murray 12:31 pm 25 May 20

    April Littrell

    No. It’s a purpose built facility.

    Susan Loring Susan Loring 12:33 pm 25 May 20

    Steve Wood but if we end up needing it, then what happens to all the homeless residing in there ? and how do they get it deep cleansed and re instal the medical equipment in time? I think the MLAs would be thinking about that issue if they repurpose it for anything while Covid is still around in the world.

    Peter Bojkowski Peter Bojkowski 1:07 pm 25 May 20

    Stop the calls re it being used as a homeless shelter. It's a purpose built medical facility with thousands of dollars of expensive medical equipment. The facility also needs to importantly be kept empty and ready to go in the case of a sudden outbreak of cases or cluster in Canberra or surrounding NSW.

rsm1105 rsm1105 9:23 am 25 May 20

Has the author asked to see the modeling on which the decision to build this was based?

In the US they have dismantled their temporary ce tres.

And in UK Oxford Uni is expressing doubt chances for a vaccine due to the fading of the virus in UK.

Could we please inject some reality into the reporting.

And an “impressive piece of work”? This is what Aspen does. Was there any doubt they could not build a 1st class facility, it’s a highly regarded enterprise and this is what they do. This is entirely besides the point.

Anna Kay Anna Kay 9:22 am 25 May 20

I like to think it can be used to help overflow of patients from other other states should we need it. It could potentially save lives

Monty Ki Monty Ki 9:07 am 25 May 20

Like all insurance policies, you pay for it hoping you don't need it, but if you do need, you are so glad you have it.

Steve Caldicott Steve Caldicott 9:07 am 25 May 20

Canberra is prepared for any subsequent wave of COVID with a purpose built surge facility that will hopefully never be used

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