COVID-19: Examine your sphere of influence and act

Woman wearing glasses
Anna Davidson

“COVID-19 was always going to come. It is just that we didn't see it coming. We had cocooned ourselves in the warmth of our belief that we were beyond the vagaries of history.”

“What I have learnt is that we all have our part to play in history; that we are all leaders. It is the populace who wins wars, not those in charge who are removed from the risk of the front-line, from the risk of loss. It has always been about the bystanders. It is what the bystanders do that changes the course of history.”

These are the words of Southern Cross University graduate, Anna Davidson, who owns a large GP Super Clinic in Nelson Bay.

Two months ago, if you asked Ms Davidson (who did a double degree in Arts/Media and Law) what she did, she would have told you she was ‘a keeper of culture, a team member, and mentor’. Today she sees her role quite differently.

“I now constantly think of the Clinic in terms of war.”

“Our doctors, nurses and staff are our soldiers. They need armour and weapons. Without them they cannot do their jobs. It is my job to provide the armour, to keep them safe, and weapons to do their jobs.”

Early warning signs

Ms Davidson first realised what was happening on January 25.

“At first, I thought in normal terms: disruption, VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity), risk, planning, I thought I was prepared. Then in early February, I started to see signs of what was to come.”

One of the first red flags she noticed was hand sanitiser and basic Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) being placed on backorder, meaning they had no idea when or if it would arrive.

Rather than being complacent, Ms Davidson started to think creatively about how to solve these problems.

“I started getting my own hand sanitiser manufactured.”

“When other practice owners and managers started asking if I could provide them with some, I came to realise that we did not have the armour we needed to provide staff to be safe. So, I took a good hard look at my sphere of influence and decided to trust my instincts and act.”

This process was not as easy as it sounds. It involved a massive upscaling effort: sourcing the required ingredients, convincing manufacturers to drop everything and repurpose their entire businesses, and then getting help to work out how to get the hand sanitiser to GP clinics across the country – who were all running low.

“Usually in business cash is king. But wars, while they require cash, are won and lost on supply chain. As a practice owner, it is my job to ensure both cash and supply chain. I have responsibilities far greater than just ensuring solvency.”

With the help of other members of a Practice Managers Network on Facebook, the venture was successful but ongoing efforts to find funding for it have not gained traction.

“This has frustratingly meant that hand sanitiser has not just been able to flow out to where it is needed most.”

And, Ms Davidson points out, not all hand sanitisers are effective.

“People need to buy hand sanitiser that works. Australian legislation was passed on the 28th of March 2020, requiring that it must be 80% ethanol or 75% alcohol. It must be batch tested and contain NO fragrance and NO gelling product. Please check you get what you are paying for. You need a product that will kill the virus instead of something that smells nice or just makes you feel safe.”

It’s a war zone

Beyond the issue of hand sanitiser, over the last eight weeks COVID-19 has fundamentally and physically changed how Ms Davidson’s Clinic does business. It is now in its fifth complete redesign in terms of business processes and has ‘morphed’ into the digital space.

“We are effectively working in a war zone. We have changed every system we have, multiple times. We have changed how we work, where we work, how we get paid for our work, who we work with, when we work, what tools we use for work. All while risking our exposure and thereby exposing our families to COVID-19.”

“We always triage over the phone, we are seeing patients in car parks, conducting flu clinics in drive-through tents on council ovals. We time our physical patient exposure to be less than four minutes.”

“We eat by ourselves. We hold our collective breath every time a patient’s (or staff member’s) COVID-19 results return.”

“The cacophony that silence causes in your mind creates a tension and stress that is not able to be left at our front doors at home as we shed our clothes into washing baskets, leave our shoes at the door and touch nothing as we go straight into the shower to disinfect ourselves to protect our families, while our clothes are immediately washed on the highest sanitary program we have. Then we breathe and are home.”

Ms Davidson says that if she were able to offer any advice in these times it would be this: examine your sphere of influence and act.

“Your sphere of influence might extend to your own family, wider network of family and friends, interest group, community, business, town, region, state, nation.”

“Can you assist with improving social distancing for just one individual? This action alone will stop around 450 infections.”

“Can you help house someone who is homeless and stop one infection? Can you help with food delivery? Can you look out for escalations in domestic violence in homes by training your telephone staff to be DV aware? Will you act on concerns and call the police to do a welfare check?”

“Can you help source, donate, make, PPE? Are you an expert in logistics, web design, international freight, warehousing, and will you volunteer your time to our national project to create a national clearing house to match areas of need with required PPE?”

“Do you simply know someone on the front-line who you can cook a meal for, and have it delivered?”

And finally, Ms Davidson says you need to be comfortable with the fact that your actions may not be measured or lauded in the usual way.

“It may never be attributed back to you, or your actions. None-the-less your individual action is vital.”