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November 2021

Lady with a red moustache stuck to her face mask and a 'Pierre' name badge on her apron jpeg
Sue Buchanan as Pierre the French chef.

Staff get seriously silly to beat lockdown loneliness

For Bairnsdale Regional Health Service planned activity group (PAG), the COVID-19 lockdowns presented a challenge to be overcome with determination, creativity and just a little weirdness.

Spearheaded by PAG co-ordinator Janelle Willmott during the initial lockdowns last year, the team began sending fortnightly letters to each and every client, including activity packs, colouring sheets and recipes – and the veggies to make them.

When possible, they dropped the packs around.

Even from the approved physical distance, a face-to-face visit was a lovely disruption for staff and client.

And they got on the phone and rang every single client, every week.

Despite being redeployed into other areas of the health service, the PAG team made up a roster and each team member set aside one day each week to sit down with a phone and work through the list of 80-plus clients.

‘It was our way of maintaining some kind of connection,’ Ms Willmott said.

‘We feel a strong sense of responsibility to our clients and just because COVID-19 is happening that doesn’t change things.

‘If anything, the need to stay in touch is even greater.’

‘For some of us, these people were the only ones we would talk to all week,’ said PAG participant Sandy Dempsey.

‘They would call just to say hello, to ask how we were doing.

‘Those little chats helped us keep our sanity.’

As the pandemic dragged on, the BRHS team found new ways to stay in touch – putting a fun twist on the ubiquitous Zoom platform to bring games and group activities into the clients’ living rooms and, more importantly, into their lives.

For Sue Buchanan, who at the age of 45 had gone to TAFE to get her commercial cookery qualifications so she could combine her love of cooking with her aged and health care services career, the Zoom sessions were an opportunity to bring some fun and laughter to a group of people that needed it.

So, she dived into her costume box at home and emerged as a host of colourful characters to host raucous online cooking sessions, in which actual cooking often took a back seat to just having a good time.

Pierre the French chef was a favourite, as was Dolly Parton, who dropped by one week to make flapjacks.

‘It was certainly chaotic – and a bit silly,’ Ms Buchanan said.

‘But everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and that was the point, really.

‘I think everyone just needed a laugh.’