12 October 2022

Rural nurse honoured for work 'beyond call of duty'

| Sally Hopman
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Two women

Nicola Barnes, left, receives her “surprise” award from the Member for Goulburn Wendy Tuckerman in the Boorowa coffee shop. Photo: Supplied.

Nicola Barnes thought she was just going for a coffee with Wendy Tuckerman.

The Yass nurse manager and the Member for Goulburn, respectively, met occasionally to discuss everything from healthcare in the Southern Tablelands region to the COVID-19 pandemic to what was happening in their local community.

“I received this letter from Wendy asking if we could meet – I was more than happy to so we caught up in a coffee shop in Boorowa,” Ms Barnes said. “I’m pretty passionate about my local hospital and community so it was a good opportunity to talk about things.

“We talked for about an hour and a half, it was a great conversation, then she said there was actually another reason why she wanted to catch up.

“She told me she had an award for me.

“I was in total shock. Then I burst into tears in the middle of the coffee shop.”

The award was from the NSW Government for recognition of Ms Barnes’ contribution to community service.

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For this woman of many healthcare talents, from health services manager in the South-East Area Health Service during COVID-19 to health liaison officer to nurse manager and immuniser, Mrs Tuckerman said it was “a pleasure to be able to recognise Ms Barnes’ hard work and dedication to her profession as well as the community spirit she holds”.

“She went above and beyond the call of duty during NSW’s vaccination effort. Previously retired, she returned to work to assist in the delivery of healthcare.”

Mrs Tuckerman said Yass was heavily impacted by border closures, with many health and welfare needs of the community relying on the ACT.

“This resulted in Nicola working long days with little rest. She was also the health liaison officer during the 2019-2020 bushfires in Palerang where she was deployed to the emergency operations centre, coordinating the incident and emergency health response and recovery.”

All this, Mrs Tuckerman said, was on top of her managing Yass Hospital during its redevelopment program and daily operations.

Ms Barnes, who lives on a rural property between Boorowa and Yass, said she decided to retire last year, after more than 40 years in the health profession, “but it only lasted two weeks”.

Man and children with COVID signs

Community spirit – and support for one another was thriving in Yass at the height of the pandemic. Photo: Sally Hopman.

“As a nurse, I just couldn’t do nothing,” she said. “I’m a nurse immuniser so seeing all these people not vaccinated, I just had to do something.

“I also wanted to help people, especially vulnerable people because COVID was still a thing.”

So she hit the road, offering her services as a nurse immuniser to vaccinate people who might not have easy access to the service. Working from pharmacies and clinics in Yass, Murrumbateman and Charnwood in Canberra, she started vaccinating people. At the height of the pandemic, she would immunise up to 110 people a day. Working as a contractor, she went where she was needed, opting particularly to help the more vulnerable in our community.

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“It was a lot to do in a day, but I just said I wanted to get it into as many arms as possible.”

Working from medical clinics and pharmacies gave her access to other equipment if needed and to doctors, “if I got any curly questions”, she said.

She even also went to nursing homes to provide the COVID-19 jabs.

“Thank you Nicola for your service – from the entire community,” Mrs Tuckerman said.

The NSW Government Community Service Award recognises people in NSW who have substantially helped to improve the quality of life of members of their community – beyond what would be expected in their usual occupation.

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