COVID-19 Testing Clinic for the Bellingen Shire

By March 23, 2020 In Focus 30 Comments
Dr Trevor Cheney gives his weekly report from the Bellingen Shire Covid-19 Clinic

A collaborative effort by the private medical and health practitioners across the Bellingen Shire has resulted in the establishment of a dedicated COVID-19 testing clinic.  This drive-through clinic, situated in the former Bellorana Aged Care Facility in Watson Street Bellingen, officially opened yesterday.

In the absence of funding from the State or Federal Health Services, our trusted medical practitioners have drawn on their own resources to make this COVID-19 clinic happen.

It was a truly collaborative coming together of colleagues in the community. After discussions between the doctors and pharmacists from across the Shire we realised something big was coming. We decided that we might not be able to expect white knights to come in and save the community. We needed to prepare to look after the community ourselves,” says Dr Trevor Cheney, Three Rivers Health Bellingen.(Pictured above).

Trevor, how did you manage to secure the Watson Street facility so quickly?

An initial meeting was called between all the private medical practitioners, pharmacists, hospital representatives, and representatives of Bellorana to discuss the community’s needs at this time.  It was very clear we needed to take action.  Bellorana and the Royal Freemasons Institute very generously offered up the premise in Watson Street.  They have cleared the space and cleaned it for this specific use.  Without their support and generosity, this wouldn’t have been possible.

Why is a dedicated COVID-19 testing space so necessary?

It is essential that those members of the community who have a developing potential respiratory infection do not present to their usual General Practice, the Pharmacies or Bellingen Hospital.  We need to protect health workers, the hospital, and our essential services in the community.  The clinic offers a safe, outdoors environment.  It will operate as a drive through. We will provide assessment of each presenting person in their car, and then advise if this person fits the strict criteria for COVID-19 testing or treatment and/or quarantine.  If hospital treatment is required for seriously ill patients with concerns for COVID-19, it will be provided at Coffs Harbour Base Hospital.

What are the clinic opening hours?

We are planning to have the facility open weekdays 12pm-2pm and possibly Saturday.  Clinic hours may be expanded and will be determined by demand and the needs of the community as this situation evolves.  Information about the COVID-19 clinic can be sourced on the Bellingen Shire Council Website.  We advise that the community continue to monitor this information as the situation may change rapidly.

This is a drive though. Please – school age children are asked to absolutely stay inside their cars. It is vital we move quickly and there is no waiting or play facility.

Do members of the public require a medical referral to be able to present to the COVID-19 Clinic?

No referral is required.  However, we are advising people that if they believe they may have the virus it is best to phone your usual General Practitioner first.  Our experienced medical practitioners across the Bellingen Shire will be able to triage most members of the public via phone or Skype and will determine whether it is necessary to attend the COVID-19 clinic for testing assessment. There is a limit in resources for managing and testing, so we are forced to make difficult clinical decisions about who we are allowed to test.   We will be clear about who we should be worried about.

It is important to stress that COVID swab testing is currently restricted to those people who have:

a) Returned from an overseas trip in the previous 2 weeks
b) Had direct contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 AND who have a new cough or fever and/or rapidly deteriorating respiratory disease.  It is important to note that a cough in the absence of a fever may still be COVID-19.

There is also a special condition for health professionals dealing actively with patients.

People often imagine that medical tests are black and white. This is absolutely not the case with this test especially. Everyone needs to understand that for many the test will be useless, and the rapid clinical assessment is the main decider for the advice we give.

If I present at the Clinic- what can I expect?

There will be at least 3 people present at the clinic every day.  Members of the community can drive in and a coordinator and a nurse will be present to collect initial vital health information.  A doctor will then assess you, and decide whether a focussed physical examination is needed, and if viral swab testing is required.  If you require a swab, medical practitioners will be wearing full protective gear.

Different doctors will be present each day as our local General Practitioners take time out from their normal clinic hours to manage the COVID-19 clinic. Every patient processed at the COVID-19 clinic will have their information forwarded to his or her usual GP.

What people can’t expect is management of other health issues.  In other words, don’t present to the COVID-19 clinic with abdominal pain or a sore foot.  This clinic is reserved entirely for potential COVID-19 infections.

There is still some ambivalence in sections of the community about the threat posed by COVID-19.  What is your assessment of this threat?

Medical practitioners are taking this threat extremely seriously.  In my 40 years in health care, there hasn’t been anything like this.  It is so important for younger and healthier members of our community to protect the elderly, vulnerable and immune suppressed by adhering to the public health guidelines around social distancing, washing hands and behaviours.

There is a lot of talk about ‘flattening the curve’.  Any outbreak of an infectious disease has a ramping-up period, followed by a peak of intensity, then a decline, giving a bell-shaped curve. The height of the curve is the maximum number of cases resulting from the infection and this number may well be above what the healthcare system in any country can cope with. The main aim of ‘flattening the curve’ is to prevent a sharp peak of cases and spread out the infection over a longer period of time so that the healthcare system will not be overwhelmed.  We need to remember, Coffs Harbour Base Hospital Intensive Care Unit has a limited capacity.  If there is a massive spike in the number of acute, serious cases we will not have the resources to deal with really sick people from ANY ILLNESS OR INJURY.

Please read the current public health guidelines for reducing exposure and staying healthy- published on the Bellingen Shire Council Website

[Dr Cheney also writes an open letter to our teens and school students – read it over here]

What are your recommendations for the elderly, frail or immune suppressed members of our community?

I suggest that this cohort of our community take real care.  Follow strictly the public health guidelines that will be updated regularly on the Bellingen Shire Council Website.

I would also advise that all vulnerable patients ensure that they receive the Pneumovax immunisation for pneumonia and the Fluvax as soon as it is released. These immunisations are free for the over 65 year olds and may protect patients with COVID-19 from secondary opportunistic bacteria taking hold.  If you are under 65 and have reasons to be concerned about vulnerable lungs you will need to get a script for the Pneumovax from your GP and buy this at a Pharmacy.  Unfortunately, there are some supply issues and waiting lists, but it is good to act now.

Is this new COVID-19 clinic the only place that community members can receive a COVID-19 swab test?

The Sullivan Nicolaides Clinic in North Bellingen is not able to test for COVID-19.  It is highly desirable that our GP resources are not consumed with this. If a doctor determines that a patient fits the criteria outside our clinic, they will be directed to the Sullivan Nicolaides Clinic set up for testing at the Albany Street office in Coffs Harbour.  It is necessary to call ahead and again on approach if attending the Coffs Harbour Clinic for safety instructions.

The Mid North Coast Local Health District is mounting COVID-19 clinics at the Coffs Harbour Health Campus and Macksville District Hospital.

Finally, what is your advice for the Bellingen Shire community?

This is big- let’s work together. Think about your neighbours and family when making decisions.  Remember this event is unprecedented. The events in Europe show how dire it could be if we don’t stop transmission of this virus.  Information and advice will change as our knowledge evolves.  Be patient with your health care providers, this is all new to them too.

At this stage we are not aware of any positive test results across the Bellingen Shire.  But the cases are rapidly evolving and reported numbers could lag actual infection by up to a week.

The COVID-19 virus likes close contact, hard surfaces, crowds, the cold weather, – and we are heading into winter and the flu season.  So please take care. Now is not the time to have all your family visit from Sydney or wherever.

Now more than ever is the time to: eat good fresh food(including whole fresh fruit each day- not juices), focus on good sleep, avoid or reduce poisonous vices, wash your hands over and over and over, do not share cutlery, plates, cups, papers, kisses, phones.  And if you are unwell, self isolate, then call for advice.  This is the same advice our grandmother would have given us 60 years ago (except for the phones).


  • Peter Geddes says:

    this is a wonderful initiative. Bellingen health professionals I congratulate you.

  • Wendy says:

    Thank you for your generosity and being proactive to help keep our community safe.

  • Jane Grebert says:

    Yes, thank you All

  • Carol Lange says:

    Thank you for keeping us save

  • Annette Marfording says:

    What wonderful news! Thank you so very much. Alone the knowledge it’s there, will calm people’s anxieties and hopefully you won’t be overwhelmed with people!

  • Zoe says:

    As always, our Bellingen medical team are on the ball! What a community we live in. Thank you!

  • Lani Carmody says:

    I am very grateful and most impressed with our medical fraternity in making this available to our community. Let’s ensure we all stay home which us the best way of stopping the spread of this virus. Thank you

  • Bryony Fearn says:

    This is a brilliant initiative. Once again Bellingen Shire takes the bull by the horns and takes charge of it’s own path. This is the model that worked in some villages in Italy. As people tested positive they immediately isolated. After 1 month there were no further positives at which point they controlled/monitored the flow of people in and put.
    Keeping eachother safe and looking out for eachother.
    Marvelous stuff!

  • Celeste says:

    Fantastic initiative, thanks health team! Good, sound advice.

  • Marg Hope says:

    This is a fantastic initiative our wondetful medical groups in Bellingen have taken. Thankyou for your quick response and to I love Bello Shire for informing us. Some sense amongst the madness…

  • Jean Tait says:

    Great news. Thanks to our wonderful medicos for taking such quick action.

  • Beth says:

    So glad I live in Bello when I read about proactive, community minded approaches like this. Thank you.

  • Margot says:

    Well done! Stay safe everyone, especially our wonderful health workers. A long hard road ahead.

  • Janet Hosking says:

    We are so lucky here in Bellingen to have such proactive , caring medicos. Thankyou very much.

  • Ellie Tree says:

    Amazing, thank you so much for everyone who put in the effort to make this happen.

  • Ann O'Brien says:

    Thank you wonderful Bellingen Shire health workers and everyone else involved in providing this testing facility. We are so lucky to live here.

  • Tracey Forman says:

    Thank you to all involved in this initiative. You are all amazing and we as a community are very appreciative.

  • Barb says:

    A grown-up proactive community. What leadership and inspiration.

  • Catherine Jones says:

    Bellingen is blessed to have our Dr’s using the precautionary principle Take care everyone stay healthy

  • Ella Haigh says:

    Thankyou dear doctors and nurses and all the people who enabled this assessment/ testing station . This amazing service could very likely save many lives !. Thankyou for being proactive and wise . Thankyou for demonstrating in a practical way a true community spirit!

  • Robyn Dixon says:

    What a proactive and amazing gesture.
    Please prioritise Community Care workers.
    Both themselves and their clients are vulnerable.
    Everyday they go in and out of people’s homes all day long.

  • Dorin says:

    This is so wonderful! Thank you all for getting it running so quickly.
    What an amazing place Belliingen is.

  • Lyn says:

    Sensational effort by our local medical practitioners and facilities to enable the setup and availability of local test clinic. Kudos to you all.

  • helen howard says:

    We love being part of Bello Shire. Such a great group of people. And Bellorana we are lucky to have you too!! Let’s hope we can keep it out of our shire as long as possible. Helen and Jack

  • Leisel says:

    Brilliant immediate and practical response. Now let’s sit back and let only those at high risk such as health care workers or returning overseas travellers get tested first. Stay safe and at home otherwise.☺

  • Donella says:

    Thank you to Trevor and all the local health care professionals helping our community cope with this unprecedented crisis.

  • John May says:

    Great initiative…

    ….Go Bello

  • Marilyn Thompson says:

    How wonderful that you have given this facility to our community…..thank you for making this happen. Let us hope we can keep this dreadful virus away from us as long as possible. Without dedicated doctors like you more lives would be at risk. Keep safe and thank you.

  • Jane Northway says:

    Thank you to ALL you wonderful healthcare workers, pharmacists and those involved at RFBI for MAKING this happen. We moved up from south of Sydney in September of 2016 and continue to feel so very grateful to be part of this amazingly supportive and creative community. And a BIG thank you to the folks at “Ilovebelloshire” and the Courier Sun for keeping us ALL so well-informed. Keep safe and smiling everyone.

  • Kate Burns says:

    Thank you local Health Care teams. Superb effort.
    And sound advice to take great care of our whole community and healthy living in this and all times. Thank you

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