Rarotonga Hospital needed a solution to stop the spread of Covid-19, if it arrives here in Cook Islands. Overseas, hospitals use hi-tech negative pressure rooms, in which air can flow into the room, but not escape it.
Patients need solutions like ventilators or oxygen pumps, but the challenge for a hospital is to stop the virus escaping the rooms where they’re being treated, and spreading among staff and other workers or patients.
Dr Ted Hughes, a New Zealand-based anaesthetist who was helping Te Marae Ora prepare for Covid-10, said the problem seemed almost insurmountable. Getting a negative pressure room at short notice seemed nigh-on impossible.
They were usually very expensive and time-consuming to build, and when it was all hands to the pump in other countries as well, they couldn’t fly in overseas experts.
“What we needed was an immensely practical man who could get on and do the job with what we had on Rarotonga,” said Hughes.
Enter Stuart Henry, a former Tereora College student who had helped out on building sites in his school holidays.
“I’m not qualified but self-taught and always keen to learn,” Henry said. “It gets easier with Mr Google and yes, building has a special satisfaction for me and even better if I actually get some pocket money too!”
Henry had offered Te Marae Ora some ideas on a Covid isolation room. He told Hughes and Secretary of Health Dr Josephine Herman about work he had done 30 years ago in Sydney, setting up negative air pressure rooms.
They gave him the green light, and Henry and his team shipped in a negative air pressure unit from Christchurch, New Zealand.
This machine pulls air into an isolation room, creates the negative air pressure, and pumps the air through a pre-filter and high-efficiency particulate air filter.
They chose a room on the second floor, where they could fit a platform to house the machine on the outside. Nia Construction built the platform, with a ladder for technicians to monitor the gauges and change the filters.
Henry and his team fitted the ward isolation room openings with clear plastic polythene, with a plastic curtain at the only entrance to the isolation room.
Most of Henry’s work these days is in tourism, working with his brothers on Aitutaki’s Tamanu Beach Resort, and managing Cruise Cook Islands and Arapati Holiday Homes
“But I’m now blessed that I have other skills, construction and project management, which is a passion that allows one to step back, enjoy few big boys and take some pride when the job is done.”