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On-leave doctor organising 1000 wellness care packs for frontline Hunter health workers

Biarta Rhys-Jones in her Hamilton home loading one of the 1000 wellness packs destined for health staff. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Biarta Rhys-Jones in her Hamilton home loading one of the 1000 wellness packs destined for health staff. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Biarta Rhys-Jones looks at COVID-19 from the inside out. She is a medical doctor, married to an emergency department doctor.

Several weeks ago when the Hunter region medical community was gearing up to handle the then-coming flood of coronavirus patients, Rhys-Jones, who is a pediatrician on long service leave, was thinking about the best way to acknowledge Emergency Medicine Wellness Week, which started on Monday.

"At the time I thought it was really funny," she said. "Talking to my husband who said we are expecting the big surge in the beginning of April. It's ironic, promoting this [emergency care staff] health and here it comes. That's what sparked the whole thing. To promote self-care techniques."

In recent weeks Rhys-Jones has been pulling together resources to create COVID care packs for emergency medical personnel. She plans on distributing 1000 packs to staff at Maitland, Belmont, Mater and John Hunter hospitals who are on the front line of dealing with people hit by the devastating COVID-19.

So far, the packs will contain donations of Norco milk (who offered product for free), Black Monty cold brew coffee (her personal favourite brand, made by Dylan Goodwin-Sharpe in Belmont), $50 vouchers for Binnie Beef products (she is a friend of co-owner Liz Binnie), cookies from cupcakeroom, and information flyers made by Rhys-Jones on basic self-care techniques in the workplace.

She created a GoFundMe page (Covid Care Packages) to help pay for the products. As of Monday, it had raised $5617 of its $6000 target.

Regardless of how much is raised, Rhys-Jones says she will pay for the packs out of her own pocket if necessary.

She's also rallying children to write thank you cards to include in the packs (she has more than 150 so far).

For her, the bottom line is letting staff, from clerks to doctors, from cleaners to nurses, know that their efforts are appreciated.

"Everyone has been under such strain, and increasing strain over the coming months," she said. "I just wanted them to know the community cares."

Along with taking care of the couple's three children, Rhys-Jones has been working full-time on the COVID care packs.

Rhys-Jones is also hoping to create a database of people who would volunteer to help frontline workers with their out-of-work time or in isolation, or who do not have close family, with things like getting groceries.

Contact Rhys-Jones via Facebook or Instagram (Covid Care 2020) to contribute thank-you cards, funds or help with the project.

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