SMHS moves forward from the darkest days of COVID-19

Group of hospital staff stand in front of hospital building.
Murray District Hospital staff with Paul Forden, CE, Robyn Collins, Board Chair and RkPG Executives at the COVID Memorial Service.
June 28, 2021

Staff across South Metropolitan Health Service (SMHS) took time out this week to acknowledge the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on their professional and personal lives and the many sacrifices made to help keep the community safe.

Standing shoulder to shoulder, clinical and non-clinical staff attended memorial tree planting services at all hospital sites, including Rockingham General Hospital (RGH) and Murray District Hospital (MDH).

The memorials were organised by the Fiona Stanley Fremantle Hospitals Group (FSFHG) Pastoral Care team. FSFHG chaplain Clare Oudman said being invited to participate in services at both RGH and MDH was an honour.

Clare said the memorials were held on 21 June as it is the winter solstice and the darkest day of the year.

“From this day on, the darkness will begin to let go and light will fill more and more of our days, Clare said.

“Saving lives is part of the everyday work of our healthcare professionals, but over the past year, the whole world looked to this profession for hope.

“The memorials were an opportunity to mourn, grieve and hold close our experiences of the past 18 months, and let go of some of our sadness.”

Clare acknowledged the many losses shared by SMHS staff, including missed or postponed celebrations such as weddings, baby showers, births, graduations, birthdays, anniversaries and important cultural celebrations, and lost opportunities to say final goodbyes to loved ones

“It’s okay not to be okay, to grieve our losses, feel our pain and take time to process what these losses have truly meant to us,” Clare said.   

Registered Nurse Poonam Khatri Chhetri bravely stood up and spoke about how COVID-19 had personally affected her and her family at MDH and at RGH, Staff and Volunteer Culture and Engagement Coordinator Laura Snowball shared stories written by staff members about their experiences with COVID-19.

“COVID-19 does not respect borders and boundaries, and it was a privilege to share the personal experiences of our staff and show that as a community, we at SMHS stand beside and support each other,” Clare said.

SMHS Chief Executive Paul Forden said while the world had seen the values and virtues of those risking their lives to fight COVID-19; it had not seen their personal stories of loss and disappointment. 

“Today’s memorials recognise our collective grief and honour the personal memories we carry,” Paul said.

“No matter the title you hold, the challenges of COVID-19 have personally impacted us all, and grief, loss and isolation have left their mark.”

Executive Director of Rockingham Peel Group Kath Smith said that healthcare workers experienced more challenges than many others in the community during the pandemic.

“Our staff faced the added stress and confrontation of working in situations where there was a lot of confusion and where they were looked to as the people with all the answers,” Kath said.

“It has been said that planting a tree is a statement of hope and faith in the future – good growth takes time and encouragement, and I encourage our staff to be kind to themselves and seek support if they need it.”

The FSFHG Pastoral Care team plan to hold future memorial services on the winter solstice as a symbol of hope.

“I am not sure what the next 12 months will bring, but I know that whatever it is, across SMHS our staff know they are not alone,” Clare said.

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