Here when we are needed the most

St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney has again stepped up to the challenge of caring for and protecting the health of our community during a healthcare crisis, this time the COVID-19 pandemic. As we have done for more than 160 years, St Vincent’s Hospital is here leading the way and supporting those in need when we are needed the most.

As the CEO of St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney, I was reflecting on the proactive leadership of the Sisters of Charity in responding to the Spanish influenza pandemic in 1919.  When the Spanish Flu swept through Sydney, the Sisters sprang into action repurposing Hospital wards, cancelling routine surgery and holding Mass outdoors to reduce the risk of infection. They were way ahead of their time.

In early 1984, renowned St Vincent’s heart surgeon Dr Victor Chang AC performed the first successful heart transplant in Australia, saving the life of the then 14 year old Fiona Coote.
It is a milestone in Australian medical history that will never be forgotten and one that embodies St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney’s commitment to innovation and excellence in patient care. Today, the St Vincent’s Heart Lung Transplant Program is renowned internationally and continues to lead the way.

In that very same year, the first AIDS patient in Australia was diagnosed and our country suddenly faced the devastating HIV/AIDS epidemic. St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney and the Sisters of Charity immediately stepped up to the challenge, opening Ward 17 South, the first HIV/AIDS ward in Australia. Once again our Hospital faced an extraordinary healthcare challenge and once again we led the way.

I first joined St Vincent’s Hospital as a 22 year old social worker on Ward 17 South, caring for patients and their families through the devastation wreaked by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. In addition to facing death, a number of patients felt alone as some family and friends turned their backs. The courage and commitment of St Vincent’s Hospital doctors, nurses and allied health support workers during this horrendous time never wavered. But, I know from first-hand experience that maintaining that commitment was not easy.
On a particularly painful day I was in the nurses’ station shedding tears after the death of yet another patient. Sister Margaret Mines, our Pastoral Care Worker, came and put her arms around me. I said, “Sister I don’t think I can do this anymore, it is too hard.”  I will never forget that she said to me, “It is because it is hard that we should do it.” I learnt that was the St Vincent’s way.

Now more than ever, we reflect on our founding Sisters’ courage and their resolve not to retreat in the face of adversity. And as St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney stepped up to tackle this latest COVID-19 community healthcare challenge, it is in the footsteps of the Sisters of Charity that we have followed, and their leadership has inspired us all.

In the last few months, we have once again demonstrated our commitment to leading the way when we are needed the most:

  • We were one of the first Hospitals in Sydney to open a COVID-19 Pop-Up Testing Clinic at Bondi, one of our communities most affected by the virus
  • We quickly established a 24/7 Virtual Care Clinic to support COVID-19 positive patients in self-isolation and needing medical support
  • We launched the first rapid COVID-19 tests in Australia for patients requiring immediate diagnosis
  • We trained our nurses and doctors to respond to the complex ventilation and airway needs of COVID-19 patients, and opened a dedicated ward
  • We opened up our award winning evidence-based virtual mental health service This Way Up for all those responding to community mental health needs
  • We established a special COVID-19 homeless health support service to protect the health and wellbeing of the most vulnerable in our community
  • We installed thermal temperature screening cameras at Hospital public entrances to protect our patients and staff

As we have always done, St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney stepped up to help curb the spread of COVID-19 in our community. Our frontline staff – our doctors, nurses, allied health workers – have also once again been unwavering in their resolve to address this pandemic.

And throughout our history, our ability to step up has been enabled through financial support from our community to help St Vincent’s to lead when we are needed the most. It is this community support that has ensured St Vincent’s Hospital is as innovative and responsive as we are, going beyond what could be achieved with government funding alone.

So today, we ask for help to continue our leadership and ensure the best possible equipment, patient care and clinical research into the future and invite our supporters to please consider a donation to our St Vincent’s Hospital Equipment Fund.

The support we have received from supporters in recent years enabled us to totally update our Intensive Care Unit with new state-of-the-art ventilators, ICU beds and monitors, to open the new Advanced Cardiac Imaging Centre, and build the new Haematology Blood and Marrow Transplant Ward. These were all advancements enabled with community donations.

We are now seeking to implement significant additional upgrades through new equipment to support major projects including:

• A $530,000 state-of-the-art Hybrid Operating Table for the soon to be built Emergency Trauma Operating Theatre
• A new $800,000 cardiac and respiratory monitoring system for our Specialist Heart Lung Ward

We have already secured some support from our donors for these projects. We hope with further philanthropic support we might achieve our total fundraising target of $1.33 million.

With our family of supporters, we will be helping St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney to continue to lead the way when we are needed the most by our community. At St Vincent’s everybody matters and every gift counts.

And as always at this time, we thank all who support us to ensure that the “St Vincent’s way” continues into the future.

Associate Professor Anthony Schembri AM
CEO, St Vincent’s Health Network Sydney