5 Minutes with Lisa Brichko (’06) – Emergency Department Physician talks of her experience during COVID-19

Lisa Brichko (’06, née Tescher) graduated from medicine in 2011 and is now an Emergency Department (ED) Physician at both The Alfred and Cabrini Hospitals. We recently caught up with Lisa and asked her to share her reflections on how COVID-19 has transformed her workplace.

As emergency doctors, Lisa says they are trained to respond to mass tragedy in a short term event like a terrorist attack or a major accident, but “When I picked my career path I hadn’t even remotely considered it as a possibility as something I, or my colleagues, would be dealing with over a prolonged period”.

While describing the impact on the ED as “constantly evolving”, Lisa mentioned that while the initial situation escalated quite quickly and the workload changed, things have certainly eased since March this year. She described the stressful situation some of her co-workers experienced in having to move out of their homes, away from their families, in order to prevent potential spread to family members, especially if they were high risk (elderly or with pre-existing medical conditions).

In mid-March, prior to the government imposing lockdown on international travel, there were not many community screening areas set up, so a large number of people were coming to the ED for testing. Patients that are admitted to hospital and have had a COVID-19 test performed need to remain in an isolation cubicle until the result has come back negative. Early in the pandemic this could take many days, however with improved laboratory resources, test results are now available much faster.

As we watched the numbers peak in Italy, The Alfred hospital rapidly changed the infrastructure by rebuilding large sections of the hospital, such as boardrooms and other sections, to accommodate large numbers of patients. “While there is the capacity to hold large numbers, fortunately, we haven’t had to use those spaces yet,” Lisa says.

As policies and procedures were updated over this time, community testing centres were built and on-site screening clinics were set up to enable testing separate to the ED, freeing up their space again. Now, thanks to the new clinics and community testing areas that have been set up, tests can often be completed within a day. However, things like staff meetings went from 1 meeting a week to 4, and there would be daily running of staff educational programs on how to use equipment they wouldn’t normally use.

In April, during the stricter lockdown period, there was a significant decrease, with ED attendance numbers reducing by approximately 20-30%. Lisa attributes this to less people going out to clubs, drinking, taking drugs and undertaking other dangerous activities. Also, she mentioned that many people expressed fear in attending the ED because they didn’t want to be exposed to Coronavirus while being there. Now, however, the numbers seem to be returning to what they were prior to the pandemic and Lisa has said that people need to know that it is safe to come to ED’s if they’re in an emergency situation.

Lisa also discussed the large drop in numbers of cases of influenza and gastroenteritis as a result of people performing better hygiene, social distancing and staying at home.

While it is hard to predict how things will evolve from weeks to months ahead, Lisa said she is happy and relieved that Australia seems to be much safer and with much smaller numbers in both cases and deaths than many other parts of the world.

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