Many hospitals in Australia have found themselves significantly challenged by the COVID-19 crisis. St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne (SVHM), in particular, has played a key role in Victoria’s state-wide response.

In early March, SVHM activated its COVID-19 Pandemic Plan and established a 14-week model that forecast its future needs against likely conditions. Part of this plan included creating a simulation ward at its Fitzroy site to allow frontline staff an opportunity to practise workflows and managing healthcare in a COVID-19 ward environment.
Staff also completed Personal Protective Equipment training while the Hospital’s Operational Response Team developed a regularly updated COVID-19 Capacity Plan.

One of SVHM’s major initiatives in Melbourne’s first wave of the pandemic was establishing its Fever Clinic to provide a safe and easy way to screen patients and staff for COVID-19.
Set up by specialist staff, together with members of the Emergency Department and Infection Control, more than 9,800 people visited the clinic from March to early July and in that time over 23,700 lab tests were conducted.

St Vincent's Fever Clinic

9 News Melbourne visited our Fever Clinic today following the announcement that Victoria will have the widest coronavirus testing criteria in the country from today.

Posted by St Vincent's Hospital Melbourne on Tuesday, April 14, 2020

A Mobile Fever Clinic was also introduced in mid-2020 to assist with testing residents in the Carlton, Richmond and Fitzroy housing estates.
Similarly, SVHM’s Nurse Call Advice Line was set up to respond to calls from the general public requesting COVID-related clinical advice, mental health referrals, family violence referrals, help with social issues and financial advice. The seven-day support service began operating 12 hours a day in April and has received more than 16,000 calls since the pandemic started.

St Vincent's COVID-19 Advice Line

A team of 15 nurses are running our COVID-19 Advice Line, taking calls from the community and staff 12 hours a day seven days a week since April. So far, they have taken over 16,000 calls giving acute clinical advice, mental health referrals, family violence referrals and advice on staff wellbeing. They have also delivered pathology results to thousands of people via text messaging. #StVincents

Posted by St Vincent's Hospital Melbourne on Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Just one week after the COVID-19 pandemic announcement, SVHM launched its Emergency Appeal. The community responded rapidly to the urgent request for financial support. This surge of generosity resulted in the appeal raising almost $2 million dollars for much needed equipment, enabling the hospital to prepare for what was to come.
The appeal was awarded first place in a major Australian and New Zealand peer reviewed fundraising competition. We are truly grateful for the generous support we received to support our frontline staff and ultimately our patients.
In the early stages of the virus’ transmission, health authorities and the government identified that people experiencing homelessness or insecure housing would be particularly vulnerable to its impact.
Working closely with the Victorian Government and other community organisations, SVHM played a lead role in establishing four pop-up facilities in the inner city to provide safe and supportive places for this vulnerable group to self-isolate, quarantine and recover from COVID-19 for up to two weeks to prevent virus transmission.
Sumner House is one of the facilities being used and is a collaboration between SVHM, the Brotherhood of St Laurence, and Launch Housing to provide a 43-bed temporary residential service.

SVHM also played a key leadership role in supporting the Victorian Government’s pandemic response with the opening of St Vincent’s Hospital on the Park.
Located at the former Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre site in East Melbourne, St Vincent’s Hospital on the Park was opened to free up beds at St Vincent’s Melbourne’s main Fitzroy campus and provide support to lower-acuity patients as the number of COVID-19 patients needing hospital care began to rise.
The new site, which was commissioned in under three months, offers 84 inpatient beds and began receiving patients in mid-2020. It has a floor allocated for palliative care while another operates as a rehabilitation ward.

St Vincent’s on the Park

We're very pleased to announce that St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne has been given the green light to open St Vincent’s on the Park, a new 84-bed facility made possible thanks to a $30 million investment by the Victorian Government. Located in the old Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre building in East Melbourne, the new facility will boost our capacity to treat coronavirus patients at our main hospital in Fitzroy.

Posted by St Vincent's Hospital Melbourne on Thursday, July 16, 2020

And when Victoria’s aged care facilities were hit hard during the virus’ second wave, SVHM – along with many other hospitals – rallied together, with state government help, to protect the vulnerable elderly.
Staff from SVHM’s Residential In-Reach team – a service which provides hospital-type care to people living in residential aged care facilities – gave crucial support to those in need. Their courageous and heartfelt response made a real difference to residents and families during an extremely challenging time.
It’s important to note that SVHM’s contribution to tackling COVID-19 hasn’t solely been in the form of care, treatment, and testing. The Hospital’s resources have also been directed towards coronavirus-related research.
A global clinical trial led by SVHM and Dr Barry Dixon is using Heparin (a blood-thinning medication) to help improve breathing in critical-care COVID-19 patients and get them off ventilators sooner.
The trial aims to show how Heparin – administered as an inhaled gas – can reduce the damaging effects coronavirus can have on a person’s lungs by focusing on one of the virus’ lesser-known symptoms: blood clots.

SVHM is also part of a collaborative project led by the Walter and Eliza Institute of Medical Research known as the COVID Shield Research trial, which aims to identify whether taking hydoroxychloquine can prevent virus transmission in healthcare workers at risk of exposure. SVHM rheumatologist Professor Mandana Nikpour is one of the lead principal investigators on the project.

Outside of the pandemic, SVHM achieved a number of firsts and key milestones throughout the year.
In February, staff from SVHM proudly participated for the first time in the annual Midsumma Pride March, displaying their solidarity with Melbourne’s LGBTQI+ community.
During the year, the hospital’s Clinical School celebrated 110 years since it was established by Mother Mary Berchmans-Daly, while the hospital’s St Vincent’s At Home nursing service – founded by Sr Francesca Healy to meet the health needs of marginalised and disadvantaged patients – marked its 60th anniversary.
In March, an all-women team, led by Orthopaedic Surgeon Dr Claudia Di Bella, performed Victoria’s first pelvic 3D-printed reconstruction surgery. Pelvic resections are extremely challenging and are carried out by only around 20 surgeons in Australia. Dr Di Bella is the only woman in this select group.

And in June, a groundbreaking study led by Dr Helen Frazer, Clinical Director at SVHM BreastScreen, received $2.26m to improve and transform breast screening for thousands of Australian women using Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Currently, a woman who has a mammogram would expect to get an all-clear result in about two weeks’ time. With AI, this result could be delivered instantly.

The grant was powerful recognition of the SVHM BreastScreen team which also won the 2019 VicHealth Award for Improving Health Equity through its Aboriginal Breast Screening Shawl Project.
Under the initiative, each Aboriginal woman attending breast screening receives a colourful shawl – as an alternative to being naked from the waist up or asking for a standard screening gown – to make them more comfortable during their session.
All the trial participants said the shawl increased their feelings of cultural safety and comfort. The success of the trial has led to shawls being created and rolled out across Victoria.

Throughout the year, as always, it was the individual contributions of St Vincent’s Melbourne’s remarkable people that made a difference.
The Hospital’s Dr Skye Kinder was named Victoria’s 2019 Young Australian of the Year and was also nominated by the Australian Financial Review in the newspaper’s annual Women of Influence awards.
And Dr John Santamaria, the hospital’s Director of Intensive Care since 1985, was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 2020’s Australia Day Honours.