Check-in system a ‘shambles’ says worker calling Covid cases at home

Laura James
Source: 1News

An adviser making calls to Covid-19 cases at home says the check-in system is a shambles, with people’s wellbeing falling into non-clinically trained hands.

Currently, 2035 Covid-positive patients are isolating at their own addresses, with more than 3000 additional household contacts.

The company contracted to run the check in service is Whakarongorau Aotearoa, which also runs the vaccination booking line, Healthline, as well as a number of other New Zealand tele-health services.

An employee 1News spoke to anonymously said they didn't sign up for what they're doing now.

"We have gone from just booking vaccinations and now suddenly, someone's life could potentially be in our hands if we're not picking up something a clinician would over the phone, because we don't know what questions to ask, we don't know what things to look out for.

"It's a lot of pressure on us when this is not something we were thoroughly trained to do."

Three people have died in home isolation.

The worker said while they "don't think lives are definitely at risk" due to clear processes and steps for them to follow depending on symptoms, "it is simply our fear that something could happen".

"We know that with Covid, someone's health can change very rapidly, so it's a lot of stress and pressure on us to be responsible for these people in a way."

1News has been told the call system is automated.

"It attempts to call every single person in the database three times a day," the worker said.

But they said call line staff don't know who they're ringing, until someone picks up.

"You don't know if it's the second or third time they've been called by us today, you don't know how they're feeling."

They said they therefore feel unprofessional and find themselves scrambling to read the person's background, to ensure they ask the right questions.

The adviser also claims there are issues with the process for releasing people from isolation.

They said there're two doctors, the second added just recently, who are authorised to release people, and that's led to a backlog.

"It has gotten so bad that I would say 50, 60 per cent of calls are people wanting to know when they can be released... they have every right to be angry that they've been in isolation five, six, seven, nine days longer than they should be."

They claimed that this week staff have been given the ability to release people, to speed things up.

"We already are stressed that we're not clinically trained and we're going to miss something, and now we are suddenly responsible for this?"

"There are people who are going to make mistakes and release people who aren't ready to be released," they said.

It's believed that within one hour of the new responsibility, a staff member released someone who wasn't due to be finished isolation for more than week.

The call line worker told 1News that the person was soon called back, to correct the situation.

In a statement, Whakarongorau Aotearoa said that didn’t happen.

"Processes and resources are being rapidly scaled up given the evolving landscape,” it said.

"Significant efforts are being made to ensure the support matches the need and the system keeps improving."

Chief executive of the Covid Healthline, Andrew Slater said, "Our non-clinical staff who make the daily calls to Covid-positive people isolating at home, are all trained for this role, including on the processes for clinical escalation."

He added "there is currently a team of 12 doctors" to make releases.

"It’s disappointing to hear that this staff member is concerned about their support as we genuinely want all of our people to feel equipped to support their fellow New Zealanders and we put significant effort into ensuring this,” Slater said.

That's not how the staff member 1News spoke to feels, and they are urging the company to reflect its name.

"Whakarongo means to listen, to truly understand what people are saying, and from our level, that's not happening.

"I really can't see this being improved without the people in this company listening to what the people on the floor, on the calls, have to say."

They described the call check-in system as, "incredibly frustrating not only for us, but for the people isolating at home".

The Ministry of Health said, "people isolating at home can also contact a health professional on a dedicated 0800 number any time for advice about their Covid-19 illness”.

"If a person isolating at home with Covid-19 has concerning symptoms such as chest pain or shortness of breath we ask they dial 111 to get immediate help."