First look: Inside Canberra’s virus surge centre

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Deputy CEO of Canberra Health Services Dave Peffer… “There will be no costs incurred for staffing unless it’s activated.”
Reporter DANIELLE NOHRA gets a walk through the empty COVID-19 Surge Centre on Garran Oval.

MORE than a month ago, when plans were being made for the COVID-19 Surge Centre on Garran Oval, no one knew exactly what to expect from the virus, says project director Sophie Gray.

The 51-bed centre is now finished and sits free of patients. 

Ms Gray was hosting an invited walk-through, which might eventually see Canberra’s media being the only non-staff to see the inside of the temporary COVID-19 emergency department.

Deputy CEO of Canberra Health Services Dave Peffer was also on site and said the facility would only be activated if coronavirus demand exceeds hospital capacity in the ACT. 

And even though Canberra is currently coronavirus-free, Mr Peffer said it’s very unlikely the Surge Centre will be dismantled before the end of the flu season. It’s also unlikely to be dismantled until the pandemic is over, he said. 

When the time comes for it to be dismantled (it’s set up in a way to be packed into shipping containers) neither Mr Peffer or Ms Gray could say what will be done with the facility, but Mr Peffer said the territory owns every aspect of it. 

“[And] there will be no costs incurred for staffing unless it’s activated,” he said. 

The facility, which took seven days to plan (in consultation with the World Health Organization) and 30 days to build, was officially given its “ready-to-go” certification on May 15, so it’s ready if needed, said Ms Gray.

“It won’t come down in 30 days though, it’ll be slower,” she said.

Project director of Major Projects Canberra Sophie Gray

Inside the $23 million facility, of six resuscitation bays, 44 patients’ beds and one palliative care room, it’s split in two – one half for suspected COVID-19 cases and the other for confirmed cases.

The walls are made from refrigeration panels, which Ms Gray said were able to get put up fast and also have insulation properties, and most of the building and items in the building were sourced and produced locally, such as the door frames. 

And, maintenance can all be done through the ceiling, according to Ms Gray, who said maintenance staff can service the equipment in an environment away from patients, up in the ceiling.

As for the location, it was chosen for a number of reasons, but Ms Gray said the main reasons are that it’s close to pathology at Canberra Hospital, and it’s close to the hospital for patient transfers. 

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Danielle Nohra
Danielle Nohra is a "CityNews" staff journalist.

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