A clinic to treat patients with ‘mild to moderate’ coronavirus symptoms is being set up in a residential Sydney street, angering some locals who fear it could lead to an outbreak among the community.
A small commercial building on Elliott Street in Balmain, in Sydney’s inner west, will operate as a respiratory clinic for testing patients from Monday.
Residents found out about the clinic on Wednesday when they received a knock on the door from health officials and an accompanying letter from Australia’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Paul Kelly.
Professor Kelly urged residents to ‘support’ the clinic, saying it would ‘play a valuable role as a triage facility to help ensure hospitals are preserved for people with severe conditions’.
Treatment clinics are being rolled out across Australia as part of a $200 million initiative announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison to turbocharge testing in the fight against the virus.
Tradesmen continued to move in and out of the building on Friday, rushing to have it ready for operation by next week to service an estimated 100 to 200 patients a day.
While understanding the need for such clinics as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, some locals say the location – sandwiched in between two homes and across from a popular children’s park – is inappropriate.
Resident Kate Car with her kids Oliver, 6, Toby, 4, and Zavia, 3, are among locals who are upset about a coronavirus respiratory clinic being set up inside this small office building on their suburban street in Balmain, in Sydney’s inner west
Situated between homes on the leafy street, the bottom floor of the two storey office building will treat an estimated 100 to 200 patients each day from next week
A small number of residents along Elliott St were told about the clinic on Wednesday by health officials.
However many only found out about its location when a copy of the letter was put in a popular local Facebook group that day.
‘I’m writing to let you know that a GP respiratory clinic is being established in your local area to help test and treat patients with mild to moderate symptoms,’ the letter read.
‘The respiratory clinics are a crucial part of the mix of health care services being used to respond to COVID-19.’
Residents had an impromptu meeting with clinic management on Friday in an effort to allay their fears, with some families already considering moving out of Elliott St.
But things were only made worse when they discovered that if there is an overflow of patients for testing will be handed a buzzer – like those used in shopping centre food courts – and told to wait in their cars outside until their turn.
Alex Day and his pregnant wife live right next door to the clinic and are concerned it will limit their ability to leave the house.
‘I am deeply unhappy about it. I’ve got a two-year-old and a baby on the way, so we have huge concerns about it,’ Mr Day said.
‘We got a copy of the letter but it is very vague, it doesn’t even say where the clinic will be. I only found out by talking to someone coming out of the building.
‘We are working from home and we are trying to self-isolate as much as we can, but like everyone there are times when we will have to take the kids out and that puts us at greater risk.
Locals found out about the clinic on Wednesday when health officials knocked on their door and handed over a ‘vague’ letter from Australia’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Paul Kelly
Builders were constantly moving in and out of the office block on Friday as they desperately try to have it ready to treat ‘mild to moderate’ patients from next week
Among the concern of residents is the close proximity of the clinic to not only homes, but also a park popular with parents with young children
CORONAVIRUS CASES IN AUSTRALIA: 5,315
New South Wales: 2,389
Western Australia: 400
South Australia: 385
Australian Capital Territory: 87
Northern Territory: 22
TOTAL CASES: 5,315
‘There’s going to be people milling about on the pavement all the time, I am deeply anxious about it.’
The clinic is currently planned to run for three months but is expected to operate for as long as the coronavirus pandemic lasts.
Dr Michael Bonning will be overseeing the operations of the clinic and told Daily Mail Australia he understood the concerns of locals, but assured them all medical, health and safety requirements would be met.
‘We are really listening to residents concerned, I walked around and doorknocked residents before any of this kicked off,’ Dr Bonning said.
‘There’s strict building requirements that were signed off by the commonwealth and then there’s security, cleaning and infection control requirements – all of which we will meet.
‘We recognise we need to do as much as possible to make the site workable for local residents and we are taking as many steps as we can, in particular with parking, and we will have security guards out the front to make sure people aren’t lingering.
‘But we will ensure there is a functional clinic that does what it needs for the broader community, which is testing so we keep the spread low and flatten the curve.’
Rob Bileckji, a father-of-two young children who lives just a few houses up from the clinic, was not contacted by health officials and only found out about the plans in a text from his neighbour.
He said that while he understands the need for such clinics will increase if the expert predictions about the spread of coronavirus come true, he feels the location of this in inappropriate.
‘Obviously these are important things that people are trying to do and it is a difficult time, but I think you need to try and get it right,’ Mr Bileckji said.
‘I don’t think it’s a situation where you have a bunch of selfish residents that only care for themselves, this location just seems to fall down on all fronts..
‘There’s no parking around here, it’s a quiet residential street and with everyone now working from home, cars don’t move all day so where are patients going to park.
‘Plus you have a guy renting the second floor of the building with a shared entrance, residents living on either side – some with kids, expecting babies or who are elderly – so what it does is it creates fear and concern among peoples.
Residents had an impromptu meeting with clinic management on Friday (pictured) in an effort to allay their fears, with some young families already considering moving out of Elliott Street
A woman and her young child walk along the footpath on the opposite side of the clinic (right)
Locals were hotly debating whether the clinic was in a good location on a Balmain Facebook page, with many telling Elliott Street residents that such medical centres ‘are needed’
‘If the whole idea of this is to prevent the spread in the community well it seems that you could find a better location.’
The clinic is understood to have been part of $200 million in funding handed out by the federal government to establish COVID-19 respiratory centres across Australia.
It will be privately operated by a local GP who won the government tender.
Jamie Parker, the state member for Balmain in the NSW parliament, held a video meeting with concerned Elliott St residents on Thursday night.
He said he believes there needs to be a closer look at the criteria for handing out the funding to ensure clinics are popping up in inappropriate locations.
‘I share the concerns of residents and while these clinics are very important we need to make sure they are adequate for all three of patients, medical staff and residents,’ Mr Parker, a Greens party member, said.
There are currently more than 5,300 confirmed coronavirus cases in Australia, with 24 deaths directly linked to the virus
‘The government should be looking for locations that don’t have a shared entrance. If you look at this property it has a business upstairs who goes in and out through the same door.
‘There needs to be adequate onsite parking and there are so many industrial areas or bigger office blocks that would be perfect for patients and staff.
‘While these clinics are important they need to be adequate for everybody, and there has clearly been a lot of good points by locals about why this one doesn’t work.’
The Department of Health has been contacted for comment.
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