International Women’s Day 2021: Peninsula Health’s COVID-19 Incident Commander on leading through a pandemic

Helen Cooper is leading Peninsula Health’s response to Covid-19. Picture: Supplied.

The woman driving Peninsula Health’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has reflected on one of the most challenging years in her professional life, acknowledging the efforts of her colleagues to “adapt and change” this past year.

“Everything I thought I knew about health just changed completely – very quickly,” says Peninsula Health Executive Director Operations and COVID-19 Incident Commander Helen Cooper.

“We did not have a lot of time to prepare because we did not know what we were getting ready for and the things we knew about infection prevention and control and what coronavirus was, changed as well, so it was very difficult.”

“I am so proud of the way our people adapted – big adaptation for everyone involved –  and being willing to learn, and we’re still learning.”

As COVID-19 Incident CommanderHelen Cooper says she had to understand everyone has “a part to play”. Picture: Supplied.

March 8 is International Women’s Day with the aim of highlighting the way women are standing at the front lines of COVID-19 as health care workers, caregivers, innovators, community organizers and as some of the most exemplary and effective national leaders in combating the pandemic.

Ms Cooper arrived at Peninsula Health just months before the pandemic would reach Australia, bringing with her more than a decade of public healthcare administration experience across multiple states, including Queensland and New South Wales.

“Professionally it’s been very challenging – I’ve never experienced anything like it,” says Helen.

“I dedicated myself to getting through this, putting this important work first in my life and making sure I was available and at my best, to get through the long hours we needed to do to keep our staff safe.”

“One of the biggest challenges was understanding not only my responses but how our people were responding to this, learning and observing so that you can get through and you can help people get through.”

“No one responds badly, it’s just we all respond differently and for me it’s been about understanding this every step of this journey we continue to move on.”

Helen Cooper says COVID-19 is opening up opportunities for health services that will live on years to come. Picture: Supplied.

When asked about how she will approach the next 12 months, Helen reflects on all the positive changes that have been implemented across the organisation.

“Looking forward it’s keeping going all the good work we’ve been able to achieve,” she says.

“And it’s about that acceptance and understanding that we are in a COVID normal now and I think moving forward that will be our normal, confident we know we need to do and can make that rapid change.”

“That’s where I am pushing ahead with my thinking. What are our priorities? Where do we want to be in 12 months’ time? How do we want our surgical lists to look like?”

“We accept where we are now, today and look forward.”