Paula in the CBAC medical room.Our nurses throughout the country worked on the frontline during the COVID-19 lockdown. Registered Nurse Paula Wootton, shares her experiences working in Hawke's Bay Regional Prison.

During the early stages of COVID-19 in New Zealand, Registered Nurse Paula Wootton developed an interest in the pandemic response. She sought to upskill herself by attending a local Community Based Assessment Centre (CBAC) where she learnt about PPE and swab taking.

Paula has worked at Hawke's Bay Regional Prison for 14 years. She was initially attracted to the job because the lack of night shifts suited her family needs, but she also hoped that she could make a difference to a population who often had health conditions that they didn’t know much about.

In her time with Corrections she has seen a wide variety of health needs, but never anything on the scale of COVID-19.

“After attending the CBAC I worked with my Clinical Team Leader and we developed strategies to prevent the possible introduction of COVID-19 in our workplace. We changed processes to keep the men considered vulnerable protected from the general prison population,” says Paula.

These were just some of the changes that were made as COVID-19 grew more serious in New Zealand.

Paula receiving her 14 year long service award with her family.“We were able to continue delivering health care by adopting phone triage, rather than face-to-face consults. We increased clinic sessions in the units to minimise movement within the prison. Our doctors continued to be present in the Health Unit and do phone consults.”

Paula explains that the men embraced and accepted the changes that happened in the nurses clinics as well as the new process of being triaged over the phone. They understood why the changes had to happen and showed kindness to the health services staff.

“It was honestly a joy to have the men come on board with us and work with us, rather than against us. Now that we are at Alert Level 1, we have a great sense of achievement knowing we have successfully kept COVID-19 out of our workplace and away from our patients,” says Paula.

Though COVID-19 caused significant changes to how nurses delivered their services, it has not changed the way that Paula approaches her work. Instead it's reminded her why she enjoys working in prison.

“You never know what you will come across on a day to day basis! This could be a combination of acute, emergency or general health care.

“Seeing improvement in an initially unwell patient and being able to communicate with them, I find it leads to an enduring and positive patient journey which makes, for me, great job satisfaction and a sense of achievement.”