Rural health professional presenteeism during COVID-19: Case study analysis of a Tasmanian outbreak

Dr Kathleen Tori1, Dr Ha Dinh1, Dr Carey Mather1

1University Of Tasmania, Launceston, Australia


Recruitment and retention of health professionals in rural Australia can be challenging. The precariousness of maintaining adequate levels of staffing to meet healthcare demand has been well documented and has been further exacerbated by the current COVID-19 pandemic. In this presentation we will present an analysis of the complex factors that led to the first nosocomial outbreak of COVID-19 within a Tasmanian healthcare facility. While the complexities surrounding this nosocomial outbreak were multifactorial, staff presenteeism was found to be a major contributor to the spread of COVID-19 across multiple healthcare settings.  Presenteeism is a behaviour in which employees attend their place of employment while unwell, due to either an acute illness or other medical or psychological condition. Contextually, presenteeism not only adversely affects healthcare professionals, and the well-being of colleagues, it may also impact negatively on patient outcomes. The practice of presenteeism is frequently observed within healthcare environments however, the behaviour can have dire consequences for rural localities where staffing shortages are chronic. The findings of an analysis of the contributing factors to the spread of COVID-19 using the Haddon Matrix will be presented. We will discuss the dimensional layering of factors of the matrix: healthcare professionals, resources, physical and social environment, together with an insight into the health employee presenteeism phenomenon. Reflections will also be presented regarding how rural healthcare environments can harness ‘the power within’ to be better prepared for internal disasters.


Kathleen Tori is an Associate Professor in the School of Nursing, University of Tasmania. She is an endorsed Nurse Practitioner (NP) and completed her Ph.D. studies in the area of advanced practice nursing. Her clinical, academic and research interests include all facets of nursing models of health care delivery: transitional processes, implementation challenges, economic impact, and sustainability of nurse-led health care in rural areas.  Carey Mather is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Nursing, University of Tasmania.  Carey focuses her learning, teaching, and research on developing salient educational strategies to support health professionals and students in rural healthcare environments.