Published on May 6, 2020
Jacquie Hennessy (2011) is the Director of Clinical and Operational Support and Senior Paramedic Advisor and Flight Paramedic for St John Ambulance in Papua New Guinea (PNG).
The impact of the Coronavirus has seen Jacquie move up into the role of Incident Controller while the St John Chief Executive Officer acts as an adviser to the PNG Prime Minister and Police Commissioner during the crisis.
She shared her experience and perspective as a healthcare worker during this time in a country without the safety net of Australia’s exceptional health care system.
What is the current situation in PNG regarding COVID-19?
There have only been eight confirmed cases of COVID-19 in PNG, and the hope is that restrictions and isolation will keep it that way.
The PNG health system will not cope with increased demand. We have built a field hospital at a local netball centre so that we can care for potential cases and not burden the already struggling hospitals here.
COVID-19 is a massive threat to the way of life in PNG as families live in very close quarters, and many do not have running water close by to hand wash. If COVID-19 were to spread, it would not just be the close family quarantined but the entire village as they would not be able to control the transmission.
What is the role of St John PNG during the crisis?
The St John PNG mission is to provide healthcare to the community when no one else can, and no one else will.
St John is also supporting the National Department of Health by setting up and staffing the National COVID-19 Hotline as well as assisting with the setup and running of a field hospital and intensive care and isolation facility to meet the potential demand for critical care.
The State of Emergency here has been extended for another two months, but domestic travel restrictions have lessened, and the majority of shops and essential services are opening again.
This means a lot more work. I wish I could clone myself to get everything done! The entire team here are working 14 hours a day on average and have been for the last 44 days straight.
How do you take care of yourself in such a demanding role?
It is a challenge to self-care in this situation (especially working 14-16 hours a day). Still, I make sure I take an hour each day to go for a run along the beachfront and watch the sunrise and reflect on how lucky I am to be here in the right place and the right time to put my experience and skills to incredible use.
I’m looked after my office staff here who have adopted me and supply me with meals, make sure my water bottle is always full and that I eat at reasonable times.
What does your role entail (when you’re not in the grips of a pandemic)?
My team and I are responsible for the clinical governance of St John Ambulance; advising the government on prehospital medical standards; development of clinical guidelines and processes; logistics, pharmacy and supply for the ambulance service and the commercial sales team as well as Ambulance education and research.
I am one of two Intensive Care Paramedics who are on-call to respond to cases that need higher clinical care such as significant trauma, obstetric emergencies and cardiac arrests. I also attend to mass casualty incidents as the Ambulance Commander and provide clinical and operational management to multiple crews and organisations. As a Flight Paramedic, I crew aeromedical retrievals of critically unwell or injured patients throughout PNG and the South Pacific in either a fixed-wing aeroplane with a doctor or in a helicopter alone.
Reflections of HVGS?
HVGS gave me a taste of overseas travel and community work, but I never thought it would take me here!
Please say hello to everyone for me.