Western Sydney’s Centre for Population Health responds to over 4,400 COVID-19 calls

Health promotion officer Stacey Hopkins and environmental health officer Trent Auld pause for a photo in the Centre for Population Health call centre.

From testing advice to chicken welfare, staff at the Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD) Centre for Population Health have responded to over 4,400 COVID-19 related calls in the past month from health professionals and community members seeking information.

The internal call centre was rapidly set up in March after receiving a high volume of complex enquiries about novel coronavirus (COVID-19). At its peak, the centre received up to 440 calls a day.

The call centre formed part of the WSLHD Public Health Unit’s ongoing, comprehensive response to COVID-19, which also involves interviewing and managing confirmed cases, contact tracing, creating public health communications and providing assistance to high-risk facilities such as schools and aged care facilities.

More than 30 staff from across the Centre for Population Health came together to assist with the call centre. Administration staff triaged incoming calls and referred more complex inquiries onto the Centre’s Health Promotion and Environmental Health teams.

In total, staff spent a combined 238 hours assisting with the call centre in addition to their day-to-day roles.

Testing was the most common topic, accounting for nearly a third of all calls.

Centre for Population Health deputy director Christine Newman has praised the professionalism and adaptability of her team in these unprecedented times.

“The situation has been fast-moving and complex, with the call centre team ironing out confusion for our health professionals and community callers. There is no way the Public Health Unit could have responded so well to the needs and concerns of the community without the efforts of Health Promotion and Environmental Health staff,” Christine said.

Call centre staff responded to a wide range of queries during its operation, which required close attention to official and unofficial information circulating in the media and online.

Some of the more frequent queries fielded by the team included:

  • GPs and hospital staff enquiring about referring patients for testing
  • Business owners and employers seeking workplace advice
  • Community members seeking reassurance about the risk of COVID infection.
Environmental health officer Damaris Jong in the call centre.

Health promotion office Stacey Hopkins reported: “It was nice to be a reassuring voice for concerned community members. It felt good to be doing something useful to help amidst the chaos, though we learnt very quickly that no two calls were ever the same.”

Environmental health officer Damaris Jong highlighted one unique inquiry she responded to from a resident with concerns about his pet chicken.

“A concerned member of the public called to say they were certain their chicken had contracted COVID-19 and wanted to organise for someone to come and test the chicken for the virus. Unfortunately, I had to let him know that it wasn’t possible and referred them to their local vet,” Damaris said.

The introduction of a Service NSW 24-hour COVID hotline and the stabilisation of COVID case numbers in NSW following the Easter long weekend led to a decline in calls. This meant the call centre was able to scale back operations on 17 April.

The Public Health Unit is still responding to incoming community inquiries and is confident the now-experienced Health Promotion and Environmental Health teams are ready to spring into action again if the need arises.

For more information:

Healthdirect: Phone 1800 022 222 or www.healthdirect.gov.au

For health information, including about symptoms of COVID-19. Operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Coronavirus Health Information Line: Phone 1800 020 080

The line operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.