Meet COVID-19 health care hero Jenni White

Jenni White
Jenni White
June 30, 2020

When WNHS Nursing and Midwifery Coordinator, Jenni White heard the question “can you deploy in 12 hours?” her exciting yet unprecedented journey into the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Jenni had registered with the National Critical Response Team and AUSMAT (Australian Medical Assistance Team) more than ten years ago. As a Critical Care and Emergency trained Nurse and Midwife, her knowledge and expertise had led her to rescues in other parts of the world but never any on home soil.

Ironically, it was the NSW bushfires that had Jenni packing her limit of 3kg of luggage, but it was the call for Christmas Island that saw her pick them up and leave.

“I was on standby for the fires in the first instance,” she said.

“But they sent the Eastern States AUSMAT teams over there so at that point I thought I was staying home. I knew COVID-19 had hit other parts of the world, but it was only February so the WHO hadn’t declared a pandemic at that stage and I hadn’t really considered that I could get a call for assistance in Australia.”

“Regardless, I just said yes, I mean as a medical person, you want to do whatever you can to help so I was just excited to get that opportunity.”

Twelve hours later Jenni flew into Christmas Island on the Australian Defence Force ‘Hercules’ to meet the first plane load of Australians evacuated from Wuhan, China.

“At this point all we really knew was that we were dealing with a SARS like pathogen, so we didn’t know much more than anyone else,” she said.

The following two weeks saw Jenni provide primary health care to hundreds of returning Australians, donning the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) daily in the humid conditions of Christmas Island. While she said the heat was a difficult component of the mission getting to know the families was nice.

“As the days went by you started to get the hang of who needed what and they also got very used to us taking temperatures and being there to help them.”

Upon returning home and to her role at KEMH Jenni was well versed in the current status of COVID-19 around the world and used her knowledge and experience to lead the COVID-19 planning and preparation team here at WNHS.

The team, consisting of Infection Prevention and Management and the KEMH Emergency Response Unit worked together to prepare processes for KEMH in the event of a COVID-19 patient and to plan ahead how best to manage a variety of situations likely to take place during a pandemic.

“It was great to get back to the high energy, fast paced thinking on your feet environment,” she said.

“That’s what I’ve always loved about emergency medicine and I think here in WA we’ve done really well to work together across health services to ensure everyone has what they need to be prepared for whatever heads our way.”

It wasn’t long before AUSMAT were again needed for a national medical situation when Tasmania declared a public health emergency at the North West Regional Hospital.

This time, Jenni was asked by the Director of Nursing for the National Critical Care Trauma Response Centre to be the Infection Prevention and Maternity Team Coordinator.

“It was really interesting being the lead in Tasmania,” she said,

“My actual role was operational, to be on the floor making clinical decisions but also to shape our Infection & Prevention response plan.  Tasmania Health had closed both hospitals, so our role was to ensure the people of North West Tasmania could still come to the NW Regional Hospital for their health care emergencies.

“It was very hands on and I do think that being in that emergency centre situation again makes me miss that fast paced environment, but I wouldn’t change any of it.”

 “The latest thing I’ve enjoyed doing was learning about how to quarantine a whole ship,” she said.

“It was all part of the learning process to be ready for whatever heads our way, but the education and emergency preparedness is something that I won’t ever get tired of.”

“The community has really come together to keep everyone safe, but we must all remain vigilant and continue to stay home if we are unwell.”

Jenni was named a winner of the West Australian/Crown Perth getaway and was also recognised on Sunrise