Do you know a remote health professional or team that deserves to be recognised?
Nominate them for a CRANAplus Remote Health Award today.

Nursing through the floods in Daly River, NT

14 Aug 2023

“Navigating a moderate flood event in a remote community can be a challenging and eye-opening experience for health-care professionals,” writes well-versed Rural LAP locum Gawaine Glasby RN, of his time in Nauiyu (Daly River), NT.

Flood­ed footy field.

Recent­ly, dur­ing my locum place­ment with the Rur­al Locum Assis­tance Pro­gram (Rur­al LAP), I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to wit­ness first­hand the impact of flood­ing on the com­mu­ni­ty of Nauiyu (Daly Riv­er) in the North­ern Ter­ri­to­ry and the invalu­able sup­port pro­vid­ed by organ­i­sa­tions like Rur­al LAP and the Top End Health Ser­vice (TEHS).

Nauiyu, a remote com­mu­ni­ty with a pop­u­la­tion of approx­i­mate­ly 460 – 500 res­i­dents, is sit­u­at­ed along the banks of the Daly Riv­er. Over the years, Nauiyu has faced numer­ous flood events, mak­ing them well-acquaint­ed with the chal­lenges and dis­rup­tions caused by ris­ing water levels.

Typ­i­cal­ly, the com­mu­ni­ty wel­comes two nurs­es and two senior Abo­rig­i­nal health prac­ti­tion­ers and receives med­ical vis­its from gen­er­al prac­ti­tion­ers twice weekly.

Mon­i­tor­ing the riv­er lev­el at the local police sta­tion, the Bureau of Mete­o­rol­o­gy (BOM) issues three flood warn­ings for the Daly Riv­er. Minor flood­ing occurs at 12.6 metres, while mod­er­ate flood­ing is declared when the riv­er ris­es above 13.1 metres. When the riv­er sur­pass­es 14.2 metres, the com­mu­ni­ty is issued a major flood warn­ing and evac­u­at­ed to ensure safe­ty as they switch off the pow­er, sew­er­age, and water services.

Dur­ing the first two weeks of my three-week vis­it, the region expe­ri­enced con­stant mod­er­ate to heavy rain­fall. As a result, the com­mu­ni­ty wit­nessed the grad­ual rise of the riv­er and the sur­round­ing areas sub­merged in flood­wa­ters, includ­ing parts of the community.

A minor flood event was declared ini­tial­ly, lead­ing to dai­ly brief­in­gs with emer­gency ser­vices and local essen­tial ser­vice providers.

Addi­tion­al police with water res­cue exper­tise and NT Emer­gency Ser­vices (NTES) mem­bers were deployed to the com­mu­ni­ty to assist as necessary.

As a health­care team, we updat­ed the vul­ner­a­ble cohort list in the com­mu­ni­ty, iden­ti­fy­ing indi­vid­u­als who would ben­e­fit from ear­ly evac­u­a­tion through med­ical retrieval in a sig­nif­i­cant flood event, includ­ing an elder­ly non-ambu­la­to­ry client and two ante­na­tal clients who were only three weeks away from their due dates.

Flood­ed building.

Gawaine Glas­by work­ing with NTES and SES crews

This proac­tive deci­sion proved cru­cial, as the retrieval plane bare­ly man­aged to land due to heavy rain and poor vis­i­bil­i­ty. The fol­low­ing day, parts of the airstrip flood­ed, mak­ing fur­ther fixed-wing med­ical retrievals unsafe.

A few days lat­er, mod­er­ate flood lev­els were declared, lead­ing to the clo­sure of the road and airstrip for all fixed-wing air­craft. How­ev­er, small char­ter flights were able to land on the short­er run­way. Med­ical retrievals, if need­ed, were now con­duct­ed by heli­copters. While the com­mu­ni­ty still had access to high­er ground through a 20-minute boat ride to a near­by out­sta­tion where most com­mu­ni­ty vehi­cles were parked, the sense of iso­la­tion grew, espe­cial­ly with uncer­tain­ties sur­round­ing the arrival of sup­plies due to poten­tial flood­ing on the main road to Darwin.

In this chal­leng­ing envi­ron­ment, the clin­ic oper­at­ed with reduced team num­bers due to the flood­ing, and there were no vis­its from gen­er­al prac­ti­tion­ers. NTES teams pro­vid­ed invalu­able assis­tance as we trav­elled by boat to the near­by out­sta­tion, ensur­ing we could prompt­ly attend to urgent health needs.

The unex­pect­ed pres­ence of croc­o­diles in the com­mu­ni­ty added a lay­er of risk, mak­ing rou­tine activ­i­ties like walk­ing more per­ilous.

Under nor­mal cir­cum­stances, going for a walk around the com­mu­ni­ty would be a leisure­ly activ­i­ty, with the main con­cern being the pres­ence of camp dogs. How­ev­er, the risk esca­lat­ed dur­ing the flood when we spot­ted croc­o­diles in the com­mu­ni­ty. It made one seri­ous­ly recon­sid­er pop­ping out for an after-work stroll.

As the time approached for my depar­ture, heavy rains caused the high­way to flood, leav­ing me with no choice but to be air­lift­ed out of the com­mu­ni­ty via heli­copter.

Thanks to the sup­port pro­vid­ed by Rur­al LAP and TEHS, I was trans­port­ed by heli­copter, typ­i­cal­ly used for mus­ter­ing cat­tle.

The exhil­a­rat­ing jour­ney over the flood­ed land­scape cul­mi­nat­ed on the out­skirts of Dar­win, where I was dropped off in a pad­dock and sub­se­quent­ly picked up by a friend.

Expe­ri­ences like these remind me of the unpre­dictable nature of remote nurs­ing and the con­tin­u­ous sur­pris­es that await health­care pro­fes­sion­als in these unique settings.

Gawaine’s ride to Darwin.

Each encounter adds new colours to the ever-chang­ing can­vas of my nurs­ing career, with the final com­po­si­tion remain­ing a mystery. 

As I eager­ly look for­ward to future adven­tures and chal­lenges as a remote nurse, I remain grate­ful for the sup­port and resilience of com­mu­ni­ties like Nauiyu and the organ­i­sa­tions like Rur­al LAP and TEHS that assist in a time of need.

This sto­ry is brought to you by CRANAplus Cor­po­rate Mem­ber Rur­al LAP. Learn more about CRANAplus Indi­vid­ual and Cor­po­rate Mem­ber­ship options.