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Meanwhile, Maroondah Hospital’s ICU ward, which has three beds, is temporarily closed so that staff can be sent to Box Hill Hospital’s COVID wards.
Eastern Health director David Plunkett confirmed Friday afternoon that Maroondah’s ICU unit and another non-ICU unit would be closing so that staff can be transferred to Box Hill.
“By doing so, these employees can help us manage the surge in demand for COVID-19,” he wrote to staff.
Victoria has more than 430 ICU beds active, 49 of which are occupied by COVID patients, including 32 ventilators.
The state can expand to about 1,500 ICU and intensive care beds, and many public health experts have expressed confidence that Victoria’s system will not be overwhelmed.
The secretary of the Victorian Ambulance Union, Danny Hill, said the ambulance service was running “at full speed” before the COVID surge and had been further stretched by widespread community transmission.
He said Ambulance Victoria was careful in planning for contingencies, which he said could soon be necessary if many paramedics went on leave, as was the case last year.
“The system is currently stretched and we need every available employee,” he said. “If we lose staff, we need emergency help.”
Opposition health spokeswoman Georgie Crozier said Victoria’s health system had been underfunded for years and that COVID “just tipped us over the edge”.
“The system was stretched and hospitals had been screaming for money for years,” she said. “The Andrews administration has not prepared us for this third wave and they have had 18 months.”
In May, Ambulance response times dropped to their lowest level since 2015. One in four ambulances does not reach the most critically ill patients within the target time of 15 minutes. The state government announced a $759 million package that month to boost ambulance and hospital services.
Experts say the huge demand for ambulances and record emergency room presentations has been partly caused by people delaying medical care and checkups during lockdowns last year.
In April, 32-year-old Christina Lackmann was found dead in her Caulfield North apartment after an ambulance took more than six hours to respond to her triple-zero call.
Ninety percent of patient transfers from ambulances to hospitals must be completed within 40 minutes, according to the national target. Paramedics wait in hospitals more than 6,000 hours a week over that target, according to a source close to Ambulance Victoria, The age unveiled last month.
Other patients with heart attack symptoms and spinal injuries are being forced to wait five hours in ambulances outside hospitals in what paramedics and the Australian Medical Association have described as a public health emergency.
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