BORDER BATTLE: Desperate parents fight to see sick child
WHILE 17-year-old Bianca Cox continues to sit undiagnosed and alone in a Queensland hospital, her parents Peter and Melinda continue the long fight to see their daughter.
Their story is the latest example of how the QLD government's hard-line approach to allowing people to enter the state for compassionate and/or health reasons is failing regional communities along the border.
Last week, Bianca underwent a medical procedure which involves a cortisone injection into her back to help ease long-term disc pain.
However, after returning home to Yamba, one of Bianca's legs lost all feeling and eventually turned purple. She was taken to Lismore Base Hospital where multiple diagnostic tests were undertaken before she was later admitted to Gold Coast University Hospital.
"I went home to have a shower, and I decided to wait for my wife to finish work and then we'd drive straight to the hospital to be with her," Mr Cox said.
They packed a bag for themselves, a bag of toiletries and other items for Bianca, and with Mr Cox having applied for what he thought were the correct border passes, they headed north.
After showing the relevant transfer paperwork for their daughter at the border, Peter and Melinda were granted entry into Queensland. But once they arrived at the hospital, they were stopped by security.
"They said I couldn't be here, and I thought it was because it was past visiting hours," Ms Cox said.
"I explained my situation and started to cry, and they told me where to go and to head upstairs."
Finding the ward door shut, she rang the buzzer and was met by four-hospital staff who told her she wasn't allowed to be in the area.
"They said I couldn't see my daughter because she was in quarantine, and I needed to leave," Ms Cox said.
Standing her ground, Ms Cox said she negotiated with staff to leave the bag for Bianca in the meantime.
Ms Cox returned downstairs to talk with her husband and hospital staff, with their only options to either go into hotel quarantine for 14 days and be transported back and forth or leave the state.
"I had only just started a new job so I couldn't have 14 days off," Ms Cox said. "And Peter has health issues which means he can't be around other people in a quarantine situation.
"So, we travelled back across the border and stayed in Tweed Heads."
Before going to sleep, Ms Cox, who said she had always kept private, made a public plea for help with their situation on Facebook, hoping someone with "some clout" might be able to assist them.
Within hours of posting Mr Cox's phone started to ring.
"We'd been onto Chris Gulaptis, and Debrah Novak as well, but I got a call from a woman who asked to hear the whole story to see if it was right," he said.
"I told her it all, and then she told me she was Senator Perin Davey, the National Party whip in the senate, and like the others, she said they'd see what the could do to assist us, but couldn't guarantee it as they said Queensland had put up a wall."
It wasn't the last call he had from higher authorities either, with the highest office in the land also pledging their assistance.
"I got a phone call from Scott Morrison's secretary, that's how far up the food chain it went," Mr Cox said.
After 18 hours of paperwork and multiple phone calls to the COVID hotline, Peter and Melinda thought they had finally got the green light.
"The woman on the (COVID hotline) was brilliant, she told us all the protocols we'd have to follow to do it the right way, and we'd have to apply for the pass and all the protocols - including the chief health officer approving us to visit here," Ms Cox said.
"It took nearly 18 hours with multiple phone calls, but we got a call around 5.30pm saying we had permission to see her.
"And it was like yay! Awesome! It was so good."
However, things were very different once they arrived at the border crossing.
"The policeman was really great, but he went to look in the system and said he had nothing," Mr Cox said.
"And because they had parked us in a waiting bay, we were now in Queensland, and he said 'I've got to turf you. Travel back to New South Wales and see if you can sort it out.'"
They drove back over the border and parked outside the Tweed Courthouse where they began frantically calling to sort it out.
After three hours of calls, a woman from Queensland Health presented them with a scenario where they could travel directly to the hospital, visit Bianca, and then get back in the car and get back over the border.
"That was 100 per cent, no problems at all," Mr Cox said.
"We travelled back to the border, and they came with the passes and then said we had to go to hotel quarantine in separate rooms at $2800 per person, where we'd be taken back and forth from the hospital.
"And I said, no, that's not the arrangement we had," Mr Cox said.
More phone calls ensued.
Eventually the woman they had talked to that day emailed written authorisation to the border control, which was signed, and they were allowed in.
When they arrived at Gold Coast University Hospital, they were met by staff who organised them into protective gear and, after three days of fighting, were finally allowed to see Bianca.
"We were able to see her for two and a half hours which was wonderful; it was no hassles," he said.
Mr Cox said both he and his wife commented about the looks they were getting from others in the hospital and found out anecdotally the hospital had been in lockdown for eight days.
"It was the absolute first we'd heard of it," he said.
"We were the first people who weren't staff seen in the hospital for more than a week."
The couple said their goodbyes, got in their car and drove back to Yamba, and began to figure out when they'd next get to see their daughter.
"We've had a lot of people bend over backwards to get us what we did, and we're told we can get a pass to deliver stuff there, but we're not sure if we'll get in the front door," he said.
"With the visit we got, I don't know if it was luck, or we just pushed some buttons. We've had some support from some high-profile people, but I'm not sure we'll get in the door again. I won't stop trying, though."
Mr Cox said they were astounded the apparent lockdown of the hospital wasn't public knowledge and said it would've changed their plan of attack for the care of their daughter.
"People are looking into that lockdown of the hospital because if that's the case, it should be listed publicly and put on the website," he said.
"If told it was in full lockdown initially, I wouldn't have sent her there. I'd have put her in a car and driven her to Sydney."
Mr Cox believed measures were needed to fix the problem with the coronavirus, but compassion should be shown for those in similar situations.
"What needs to happen is the people who have a genuine problem need support, and the system needs to support them," he said.
A Queensland Health spokesperson repeated a line said earlier in the week in response, saying they understood and sympathised that it is a difficult time and there are challenges.
"Queensland's current border restrictions are in place for one purpose - to save lives," they said.
"Due to recently announced cases in Queensland, extra restrictions were implemented for hospital visitors on 22 August 2020 in listed Local Government Areas to protect anyone receiving care in Queensland hospitals."
These extra restrictions include the allowance of parents, guardians or carers for a patient under the age of 18.
Queensland Health did not respond to the claims of the hospital being in total lockdown, and said they could not comment on individual circumstances.
They confirmed that the applicants were approved to enter Queensland subject to 14-day quarantine with the opportunity to leave quarantine with PPE to visit their daughter in hospital, subject to agreement from the hospital.
More exemptions would need to be applied for for any subsequent entry to Queensland and they had not received any further applications for exemption relating to this case at this time.
They said exemptions are rarely granted, and usually only in exceptional circumstances.
As for Bianca, she's still undergoing tests to find out what has caused the issue with her leg, and Mr Cox said despite the isolation, she was pushing through.
"Lucky she's strong like her mother," he said.
"I told her if I couldn't get in the doors, she could look out her window onto the courtyard, and I'd send up half a pizza, and we could have lunch together," he laughed.
"She said that'd be real good."