Frontline heroes series part 1: Meet our healthcare heroes

Frontline heroes series: Meet our health heroes

Across the Moreton Bay Region thousands of healthcare workers have been working around the clock to keep us safe during the COVID-19 outbreak.

They’re used to doing long hours to care for patients, but the pandemic has taken working conditions to the next level as they strive to provide the best possible treatment, advice and reassurance.

Changing COVID conditions – on top of their normal work – have provided challenges unlike any they’ve ever seen.

Here, we celebrate a handful of the region’s healthcare heroes – a pathologist and dedicated pharmacy managers…

Pathologist Angela Coriat

By Jodie Powell

Tucked away in a laboratory at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, Scarborough’s Angela Coriat leads a dedicated team of 100 hidden heroes working around the clock to keep the community safe.

Few people give a second thought about their swabs once they leave a COVID-19 testing centre – other than when they will get the result.

But Angela and the specialist technicians have focused on little else other than the hundreds of thousands of slender sticks they have processed since the pandemic struck in early 2020.

The manager of the Core laboratory at the RBWH describes herself as just one person among a massive state-wide response to COVID-19 by Pathology Queensland – the public provider for pathology testing for Queensland.

When the pandemic first hit, the team was responsible for processing all of Queensland’s COVID testing.

While Angela and her team were used to round-the-clock work – the laboratory operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week providing diagnostic testing – they had no inkling of the tsunami of tests that would head their way.

Testing times

“I recall the very first Saturday back in early 2020 when the first testing numbers surged and my team were inundated with swabs and called me for help,” Angela says.

“We hadn’t experienced anything like this before and for a number of months I was very hands-on.

“With over 100 staff in my laboratory we are also responsible for urgent COVID testing to assist in patient flow in the emergency department, the processing and referral as required for any suspected vaccine-induced blood clots, COVID-19 antibody testing and clinical trials relating to COVID.”

“If you have ever been to an emergency department or outpatient clinic and had bloods collected these would be processed by my team.

“This didn’t stop because of COVID so the staff have been processing the COVID testing on top of our usual workload,” she explains.

Rapid response

Angela says there’s no such thing as an average shift – the process remains the same but the volume varies depending on community transmission rates.

“Last week, Pathology Queensland processed almost 84,500 swabs across the state.

“For the COVID testing, the staff confirm the patient ID on the sample and the request form is the same, the samples are registered into our system, then sent to the lab where the staff “swizzle” the swab so the virus transfers into the media in the tube and then the samples are run on an analyser to measure for the presence of the virus.”

As a state-wide service, Pathology Queensland is equipped to transport specimens for testing, but Round-the-clock response

Angela says logistical creativity came to the fore when planes were grounded and flights cancelled - yet swabs still needed to reach Brisbane or Townsville for testing.

“As an organisation we responded rapidly, with staff driving samples in relay style across the vast state of Queensland and we even had one of our pathologists flying specimens from Rockhampton to Brisbane on his weekend off,” she says.

“As an organisation, testing was rapidly diversified to meet supply challenges and more and more laboratories were able to provide testing closer to the patient.

“This meant that patients across the state had better turnaround times for the results and was also critical to build our capacity for each surge.”

Volume a challenge

Angela says Pathology Queensland plays a critical role in keeping other healthcare workers in the field.

“Hospital labs cannot close and we keep working over the holidays when privately run labs are able to slow down.

“The sheer volume of work over Christmas/New Year has been an enormous challenge and I am just so very proud of how my team always go above and beyond.

“Even when we have benches covered in racks of swabs they just keep working so very hard because they know they are all health care heroes.”

She is proud of international kudos for the work the organisation has carried out during the pandemic.

“It was wonderful when our organisation was recognised by the International Health Federation Response and Recognition program for delivering over and above to ensure the safety of Queenslanders through COVID-19 testing capability across the state,” she says.

Angela cherishes rare downtime at home on the Redcliffe peninsula.

“It has been so very busy for the last couple of years that I absolutely treasure any time at home. I love spending time in the garden or at the beach with my family.”

Pharmacists Will Nye, Abbey Caban

By Kylie Knight

Redcliffe Discount Pharmacy has a long history of helping customers navigate health challenges, and while its team has never experienced the likes of COVID-19 before, it has embraced a philosophy that dates back to 1955.

Pharmacist-in-charge Abbey Caban and pharmacist Will Nye say while they are on the frontline as customers seek information, medication and Rapid Antigen Test kits, they don’t consider themselves heroes.

“This is the job. You get into it because you have that want to help the community. It’s part of the gig,” Will says.

“I feel very lucky that we’ve been able to keep working, millions of others haven’t been able to,” Abbey says.

Many customers see the team at Redcliffe Discount Pharmacy more regularly than they see their doctors, enabling staff to monitor medications as well as mental health.

Will says this has been more important than ever during the past two years, particularly for elderly customers who’ve been isolated due to lockdowns and government guidelines.

“We’ve been doing a lot of work to foster these relationships and be a shoulder to cry on and an ear to listen,” he says.

Abbey says they’re also an important source of accurate information, which was changing frequently.

“We’re also the most accessible by phone call or walk-ins. You don’t have to get an appointment, we’re not closed during a lockdown,” she says.

The pharmacy also provides a home medication delivery service for customers.

“I think the team’s coped incredibly well. It’s a challenge for us on a daily basis, but they’ve really stepped up,” Will says.

Abbey says team members are supporting each other and trying to keep things light-hearted. Most customers have been understanding and supportive.

So, what is the team’s message to the community?

“Hold fast and know the resources are available to you. We are here to help and we’re part of the community. If you’re in need, let us know,” Will says.

“It’s hard to imagine a question that hasn’t been asked.”

He says pharmacists have knowledge, are in a position to provide information to customers and are accessible.

“We don’t just put stickers on boxes. We are an under-utilised resource,” he says.

Pharmacist Mitchell Petersen

By Ashleigh Howarth

Throughout the pandemic, the team from Terry White Chemmart at Narangba has been on the frontline ensuring their community stays healthy.

In a world where everything can change in a moment, manager Mitchell Petersen says his team adapts quickly to any adjustments so they could continue providing the best health advice.

“The pharmacy industry has been rapidly evolving since the start of the pandemic, incorporating new technologies and COVID-safe ways of providing services,” he says.

“Our biggest priority now is the health of the community and our team, so we are embracing the new changes as they come, but there is sometimes a lot to learn in a short time period.

“Vaccinations, rapid antigen tests, click and collect, as well as home delivery, have been our most popular enquiries lately so we’ve had to make some adjustments to ensure we can cater to these while continuing to provide our standard high level of patient care.”

Customers have certainly felt cared for and have shown their gratitude by leaving gifts.

“Over the Christmas period we felt very spoiled by all the cards, chocolates and goodies we received,” Mitchell says.

“We’ve also had numerous comments (both verbal and written) from the Narangba community members on how much they appreciate all we do.

“I’d also like to take this opportunity to say thank you to my team who have been going over and above day after day to serve the community and support me.”

No matter what happens in the coming week or months, Mitchell says he and his team will be there.

“We are here to help. Please be patient as we are under an increased workload at the moment, but we will always have time for you and your families.”

Terry White Chemmart Albany Creek manager Paul Scholz

By Ashleigh Howarth

While many people have worked from home throughout the pandemic the team from Terry White Chemmart at Albany Creek, led by manager Paul Scholz, have been on the frontline providing healthcare for their community.

Every day they reassure customers who are anxious about vaccinations, boosters, COVID symptoms and Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs), as well as caring for those who have other medical conditions and needs.

“We are part of a profession that is here to help the community through the pandemic,” Paul says.

“We are listening to people’s concerns and giving them the best advice we can to make sure we are still providing that high level of care every time.

“To make sure we continue doing our jobs well, we need to get streamlined and accurate information in a timely matter before the public, so we can be proactive instead of reactive.

“I would say that has been one of our biggest challenges.”

The demand for RATs has also kept staff busy, with the store’s three phone lines ringing non-stop 12 hours a day, and lines of customers coming in when stock does arrive.

“There are lots of unpleasant phone calls when we run out, but we have absolutely no control over that,” he explains.

But Paul says seeing the smiles on the faces of loyal customers who continually thank them makes every day worthwhile.

“Our patients say they are thankful for the job we are doing,” he says.

Paul says his team has been putting in extra hours and going above and beyond their job description to help everyone who comes into the store.

Do you know a frontline hero we should feature? 

Email editor@moretondaily.com.au and tell us who they are, what they have done and how we can contact them.

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