ST Eunan’s GAA club pitches have been temporarily ‘taken over’ by the HSE and used as a drive-through Covid-19 testing centre.
Visits to the Letterkenny venue is by appointment-only and anyone getting tested there will have been referred by a GP.
When fully up and running, the centre could test up to 300 people every day. At present, the average throughput is fifty to sixty.
“When somebody gets an appointment, we ask them to call to the centre at a specific time,” HSE Clinical Lead for O’Donnell Park Ms Maura Gillen explained.
Appointed Community Healthcare Network Manager for Inishowen at the start of the year, Ms Gillen has been redeployed to Covid-19 duties since mid-March. She is joined in Letterkenny by Judith McGlynn, a Senior Physiotherapist in Lifford Hospital.
Together they manage a team of forty health care professionals – made up of physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists and dieticians – who carry out the tests.
They are supplemented by members of the local St Eunan’s GAA club who provide volunteers to look after traffic management while the Civil Defence provide vehicular support.
“When a person first arrives in they are asked to verify who they are. Once they’re approved to come for the testing, we ask them to drive behind the Civil Defence vehicle and around the stand in O’Donnell Park into our pods.
“One of the HSE staff members will then carry out the swab procedure before the person drives away. Your whole appointment time will be less than ten minutes at the centre,” Ms Gillen said.
The Letterkenny centre has been unable to open on a number of occasions since it first started operation due to issues with procurement but that has since been resolved.
“Thanks to a recent shipment from China we now have a plentiful supply of swabbing kits,” she confirmed.
“We have the personnel in place to be able to carry out up to three hundred tests a day, seven days a week but it’s a demand led service and, at present, we’re able to keep up with demand by operating limited hours.
“Most of our staff (in O’Donnell Park) are doing one or two shifts a week here and then going back to their own caseloads. We’re doing on average fifty to sixty tests a day
“There’s talk of ramping the number of cases from next week and, if so, we have the staff and kits available to allow us to do up to three hundred per day,” she said.
O’Donnell Park has been used as a test centre since March 27. Before that tests were being done within the St Conal’s Hospital site.
“We could do no more than sixty or seventy cases on a good day in St Conal’s and that’s why we moved to O’Donnell Park. It’s working out really well for us here. The club have been excellent providing volunteers to help with the traffic management,” Ms Gillen said.
Once the swabs have been taken they’re removed by courier to the laboratory in Letterkenny University Hospital for testing.
“There’s a great camaraderie and team spirit down here. It’s nice working with people who you wouldn’t normally work with. We’re all enjoying interacting with each other. It’s one of the real positives,” she added.
There are tea making facilities on site while sandwiches are delivered each day. Last Friday, club member Ollie Harvey even dropped down a few boxes of Dale Farm ice-cream.
Testing resumes tomorrow afternoon, starting at 2pm, and continues with morning sessions on both Friday and Saturday (9am) before switching back to an afternoon start on Sunday.
The Letterkenny venue is one of two hubs in Donegal. The other is located at Ballyshannon’s Lakeside Centre.