The calm in the COVID storm - Mrs Paula Maree Duffy PSM
It is 22 November 2022, and Mrs Paula Duffy has had a busy week. But it's nothing compared with the last few years, on the front lines of health care in Queensland amid the COVID pandemic.
The Executive Director of Nursing, Midwifery and Patient Experience at the Gold Coast Hospital and Health Service was among those honoured late last year at an Investiture Ceremony at Government House, hosted by Her Excellency the Honourable Dr Jeannette Young AC PSM.
There, shoulder to shoulder with Olympic sporting heroes, bravery award recipients, military and commercial innovators, and captains of industry, celebrated educational and legal minds, notable contributors to the arts, and various standouts in their fields of scientific research, Mrs Duffy received the Public Service Medal (PSM).
The PSM recognises Mrs Duffy’s significant contributions to the operation and management of the COVID-19 response at the Gold Coast Hospital and Health Service, including opening nine dedicated COVID-19 wards and two Intensive Care Unit pods.
However, she prefers to think of it as recognition of the teamwork and forbearance of her colleagues in managing one of the biggest health emergencies of our time.
"It's fantastic to be recognised, and not just me, but for the teamwork in how we managed the COVID response," she says.
"I'm really proud of how Gold Coast have managed it. We had the first case in Queensland – which seems like a lifetime ago, and such a lot of water under the bridge.
"January was probably the worst period for us in terms of COVID and people off sick. There was one day where nearly 200 staff were sick, but everyone just pulled together. There were people who normally wouldn’t work in the wards doing so. It was very stressful.
"People forget that staff also pick up COVID, and family members pick it up so they can’t come to work. It continues to be a struggle to provide the services we do, and the last thing we want to do is cancel surgeries because of the implications that can have for people. We try to avoid that wherever possible.”
Mrs Duffy PSM said that during her investiture, Her Excellency had also acknowledged the contributions of her team at Gold Coast Hospital.
"I know (Her Excellency) from her time as Chief Health Officer, and she was saying how well the Gold Coast had managed the COVID response, and that we really hadn’t missed a step," she says.
"In terms of the public health response and in-hospital response, and managing people in the community and the airport, it was a real team effort in terms of how everyone responded and continues to respond.
"The work is never done – we removed the masks for I think a week and half before they had to be reinstated because of the numbers climbing again."
Asked if she might have considered a different career path had she known a health emergency like the coronavirus pandemic would eventuate, Mrs Duffy was unequivocal:
"I love looking after patients and working with the staff. I absolutely love my job. You have to go with the punches, because health care is like that – you never know what you’re going to encounter.
"I take great pride in the care we provide to the Gold Coast community. We have an excellent standard of care, and that’s where the job satisfaction comes from."
She urged patients and members of the community to consider the pressures health care staff faced during busy periods, suggesting they offer: "Some kindness and understanding that everything is a lot more complicated now with COVID.
"Even in emergency, there are a lot of extra things we need to do, so it does slow down the process. We try to streamline that as much as possible.
"The health system is always under a bit of pressure, and we do what we can to give people the care they need when they need it. I think on the whole we’ve been pretty good at doing that."
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