Too soon to think about packing up COVID-19 ED, says Aspen Medical boss

Ian Bushnell 31 August 2020 24
Rachel Stephen-Smith, Bernadette McDonald and Glenn Keys

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith, Canberra Health Services CEO Bernadette McDonald and Aspen Medical chair Glenn Keys on the Garran Oval before the temporary ED was built. Photos: File.

It’s far too early to consider demobilising the unused COVID-19 emergency department on Garran Oval, according to the head of the company which built the facility.

While the temporary ED is currently being used as a COVID-19 testing site, the facility has not had to be used as a surge centre due to containment measures in the ACT working to limit the number of cases needing medical treatment.

Chair of Aspen Medical Glenn Keys appeared at a Legislative Assembly committee hearing today (16 July) and told it that he did not believe any decision had been made on the facility’s future, and nor should one be made yet.

”I don’t think a decision has been made and I actually don’t think we need to make one now either because what we’ve seen in Victoria and some of the suburbs in Sydney suggest that this has a little while to run yet, and I think being flexible and adaptable is going to be critical to getting out of this as fast as possible,” Mr Keys said.

He told the committee that the COVID-19 threat was far from over.

But when the government did decide the facility was no longer needed there were many options for it to be relocated and used elsewhere for any number of different eventualities.

Mr Keys said its innovative design and built-in flexibility meant the facility could be packed up within a matter of weeks and could be either stored in shipping containers until needed or moved to another site.

Inside the COVID-19 ED

Inside the COVID-19 ED at Garran Oval.

A range of other uses had been canvassed including sale to another jurisdiction, as a training centre or deployed in the Pacific as part of the regional health security initiative.

”What that shows is we’ve actually created an asset that is incredibly flexible and incredibly capable to be used elsewhere,” Mr Keys said.

He told the committee that if COVID-19 took off in the ACT it would take three weeks for Aspen Medical to source from its core workforce across Australia the staff needed to run the ED.

But he said no staff would be poached from existing the ACT health system, say that would be like ”moving the deckchairs”.

He said Aspen Medical was ready to respond no matter what level was required or if a phased approach was taken.

”We are ready for models where not all the beds are [occupied],” Mr Key said.

Mr Keys said that it was the government that initiated talks with the company about setting up the COVID-19 ED, but that the process had been a very collaborative one.

He said there wasn’t the time to proceed as usual during contract negotiations and that involved the company accepting an amount of risk to take on the project.

”To met those timelines we realised the government was operating in extraordinary circumstances and we did take on that risk but in a way that we thought was justified and appropriate.”

Mr Keys said the government did all it could to smooth the way for the project; for example, by expediting the development application.

”We would raise things about what needed to get done. Literally we would work out who was best placed to do it or who could assist us getting it done,” he told the committee.

Mr Keys paid tribute to the public servants, the contractors and the community for supporting the project.

The ACT Government set aside $23 million to build and operate the temporary ED.

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24 Responses to Too soon to think about packing up COVID-19 ED, says Aspen Medical boss
HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 5:32 pm 17 Jul 20

Even without the disaster in Victoria, early closure/removal of this facility surely would have been a “courageous decision” in Yes, Minister terms – e.g. we still had our own risks to consider from the plans to resume travel of overseas students to Canberra.

Wendy Peters Wendy Peters 4:25 pm 17 Jul 20

How can they even think of taking it down, why can’t it be used for something else after the virus is over??????

Maureen Loiterton Maureen Loiterton 12:51 pm 17 Jul 20

Well said

Joanne Mitchell Joanne Mitchell 8:55 am 17 Jul 20

Of course what is happening in Australia is a affecting the ACT . whose borders are still open to most of the country . The reality is it wasn’t so long ago the ACT didn’t even exist and was simply part of NSW . If you took the man made border line away , geographically - it still is a small area in NSW . It’s as vulnerable to the virus as any other Australian state and as everyone has recently seen - residents are quite capable of travelling to other states and bring Covid back to the ACT . Nor is the pandemic over - at least last I saw , so I have no idea why this idea even came up . Complacency is what got a lot of areas worldwide in the position they are now

Julie Maynard Julie Maynard 8:38 am 17 Jul 20

This facility has become a political football -with the looming election. It must remain where it is!

Julie Maynard Julie Maynard 8:37 am 17 Jul 20

I agree. Covid is far from


chewy14 chewy14 11:15 pm 16 Jul 20

Anyone that thinks this was a bad investment is an imbecile.

You just need look at what is happening overseas and the speed of the Victorian outbreak to know what’s on the line.

There is always going to be tradeoffs but this type of insurance policy is worth it’s weight in gold.

Darron Marks Darron Marks 10:48 pm 16 Jul 20

Maybe we can move it and rent it out like some kind of mobile field hospital. Put it on the border of NSW and the ACT 🤷‍♂️

Matilda Sanchez Matilda Sanchez 7:58 pm 16 Jul 20

As long as this virus is around and we have no control, we need it.

It would be completely stupid to not have it 😒

Laz N Court Stevenson Laz N Court Stevenson 7:54 pm 16 Jul 20

Man just keep it up, especially considering what is happening around us.

I don’t think a COVID surge will conveniently wait for ACT to set up the building again and staff it.

Aldith Graves Aldith Graves 7:28 pm 16 Jul 20

Of course it is too early with what is happening in Melbourne & Sydney

Robyn Holder Robyn Holder 7:27 pm 16 Jul 20

How stupid to pack it up while Victoria and NSW are getting second waves.

Sher Bee Sher Bee 7:13 pm 16 Jul 20

We need it considering we are surrounded by NSW 😬

It will also be able to assist our regional nsw neighbours if things continue to worsen. Stay home, stay safe, be covid smart. 😷

Helena Reeves Helena Reeves 6:54 pm 16 Jul 20

Well done ACT Government for forward thinking, we would have something to say if they had sat on their hands, let’s be positive here. We’re doing well

Jenny Bolin Jenny Bolin 6:27 pm 16 Jul 20

Given the current situation in Victoria and in Sydney and surrounds, packing up the covid hospital could be a very bad idea! You don't cancel your insurance policy because you haven't had to use it!

Jason Preston Jason Preston 6:19 pm 16 Jul 20

Everyone was quick to say it was a waste of money and it needed to get packed up. I was saying to people, hang on a bit longer, you’ve got flu season and the possibility of more outbreaks if they undo restrictions and people start getting sick again.

And here we are

    Jason Preston Jason Preston 6:26 pm 16 Jul 20

    Shaun Hoy

    7, 13, 28, 40, 4, 17... and the supplementary is inside the golden mask under someone’s seat.....🤪🤣🦠😷

    Fiona Beryl Fiona Beryl 6:29 pm 16 Jul 20

    Jason Preston it’s really just like any begrudge paying for it, but are eternally grateful you did if and when you need it!

    Jason Preston Jason Preston 6:37 pm 16 Jul 20


    I figured they’d do something like it (well they went further than I thought) but I figured it was a very wise investment

    And if they hadn’t put it together, then needed one, well it would’ve been a world of woe

    David Ward David Ward 6:42 pm 16 Jul 20

    Jason Preston thanks mate. Got it covered. 😜

    Tim Cole Tim Cole 7:06 pm 16 Jul 20

    Better than any clairvoyant

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 12:30 pm 17 Jul 20

    Not everyone; mostly only the normal against everything crowd. Those who can't think beyond the present.

    David Ward David Ward 12:23 am 28 Jul 20

    Jason Preston just in case you were wondering, those numbers didn't win. 😭 Fun trying it on tho. 😜

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