The CEO of Halls Creek Aboriginal Medical Service, Yura Yungi, says WA Country Health Service’s (WACHS) response to the town’s first COVID-19 case has been “disjointed and conflicting”.

Brenda Garstone, CEO of Yura Yungi Medical Service, spoke to NIT on Friday to raise concerns about the lack of coordinated response in Halls Creek. She said the town is in a “state of crisis”.

Wednesday saw news of Halls Creek’s first confirmed COVID-19 case, resulting in local hospital staff being placed in isolation and the closure of Yura Yungi.

“I haven’t seen a pandemic plan for Halls Creek yet and [now] we’ve had a positive case … we still don’t have a pandemic plan.”

Garstone said the contradicting communications from WACHS “sent everyone into a whirlwind”.

“This is not something that they should be miscommunicating,” she said.

The CEO said she is unsure how long WACHS knew of the case, and that she did not receive any formal communication regarding a plan until at least 24 hours after the case was confirmed.

As CEO of Halls Creek’s Aboriginal Medical Service, Garstone was shocked she was not immediately notified by WACHS. Instead, she was informed by Yura Yungi’s overarching body, Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services (KAMS).

“I am the CEO … on the ground. You’d think I would have got a message first and a very serious communication,” Garstone said.

Dismayed at the lack of respect shown to the medical service, Garstone said there is a duty of care for Government organisations to communicate in a transparent manner during health crises.

“We should be treated with respect as a professional health organisation that’s equal to the hospital here,” Garstone said.

“It’s very disappointing … the way this whole issue [has] been handled and communicated.”

Waiting in anger, Garstone said she still hasn’t received any confirmation of the Halls Creek case’s incubation period, when the health worker began self-isolating or how many people the health worker was in contact with while infectious. She has only been told March 25 was the infectious period.

According to the World Health Organisation, the time between catching the virus and showing symptoms – the incubation period – can be anywhere between one and 14 days, but is commonly five.

The Australian Department of Health says it is possible for patients to be infectious before showing symptoms, however this has only been documented in a small number of cases worldwide.

The CEO feels misled by this lack of information from WACHS and is continuing to ask for clarity and a coordinated response moving forward.

“We don’t have the full story … it doesn’t add up. It’s not making sense.”

WACHS released a statement on Friday saying they have taken “immediate action” to reduce COVID-19 spreading in the Kimberley.

Principal Health Officer, Dr Helen Van Gessel, said all confirmed cases in the region are self-isolating and having their health closely monitored.

“While contact tracing remains ongoing, we know that some of the confirmed cases are contacts of one another, others have a connection to travel, while one remains under investigation,” Dr Van Gessel said.

WACHS Chief Executive, Jeff Moffet, also said extra support had been sent to the Kimberley to bolster medical services in response to the virus.

“Two clinical teams will deploy to Broome and Halls Creek … to support the hard work of local staff on-the-ground,” Moffet said.

“These teams are made up of specialist nurses and doctors from the Pilbara and metro area who have been appropriately risk assessed to ensure it’s safe for them to enter the Kimberley in line with current biosecurity restrictions.”

NIT put further questions to WACHS regarding the Halls Creek COVID-19 case, however, no response was received by time of publication.

By Hannah Cross