24 May 2020

COVID-19 Surge Centre insurance we had to have

| Ian Bushnell
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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.

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I am a Rabbit™11:33 pm 22 Jul 21

“when COVID-19 posed a much greater threat than it does now.”

This post should really be deleted for misinformation. In the Australian context, this statement is false and it’s pretty poor form that RiotACT has allowed this onto the site. Even though we have vaccinations now, the R factor delta variant means Australia has never been in a more pracious sitatuion – even when we didn’t understand it as much as we do now.

Why is it running on a massive diesel generator and not mains power?

Capital Retro8:53 pm 22 Jul 21


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

“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?

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?

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.

liberalsocialist1:32 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.

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.

I disagree. This is an unnecessary waste, an exercise in paranoia, while the destruction of Garran playing fields is yet more removal of our green spaces, which Barr regards as his for the taking. I agree with aptly described ‘unofficial opposition leader’, the former Chief Minister Jon Stanhope, that it is a panicked response to endemic neglect and ongoing mismanagement of the health system in the ACT.

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