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Read about the effect of Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Aged Care here.
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​How the aged care workforce and providers have adapted to the coronavirus

Every day there is a new update around the coronavirus and how we, as individuals, can help reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Resident Liz of Luson Care's Eden Park Residential in Geelong, Victoria, sending out a heartfelt message to family. [Source: Luson Care]
Resident Liz of Luson Care's Eden Park Residential in Geelong, Victoria, sending out a heartfelt message to family. [Source: Luson Care]

As the restrictions and safety measures evolve, so too has the aged care industry, as they try their best to reduce the possibility of a coronavirus outbreak.

While implementing measures to keep residents and staff safe, aged care providers have been going above and beyond to prepare their facilities for a potential COVID-19 outbreak, and staff have been provided with new materials and training in preparation for if that does happen.

Government support

The Government has provided multiple funding supports to the aged care industry over the last few weeks.

This includes $2.4 billion of the health stimulus package going directly into aged care.

Approximately $101.2 million will be going towards the further training of aged care workers in infection control, to support residential and home care providers in hiring more staff, and the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission received funding to support providers in improving their infection control. 

An additional $445.6 million was later announced by the Government to support staff retention in residential aged care and home care services.

The Government is attempting to make sure there is enough staff on hand during this pandemic while ensuring there is an incentive for the workforce to remain working in aged care facilities and home care services during this scary time.

Around 20,000 international nursing students had their working restrictions waivered by the Government so they could provide extra hands to the healthcare and aged care sectors.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Older Persons Advocacy Network (OPAN), Craig Gear, said in a recent OPAN Webinar that it has been a difficult time for the Government, who have been rushing out new plans and protocols over the last few weeks, as well as for providers trying to keep up with all the new procedures.

"Everyone is looking at how to provide a continuity of services in a really safe way... It's like building a bike when we are already riding the bike," says Mr Gear.

Employing more staff

Aged care providers have not been sitting idle, as early as January, facilities and home care services have been preparing for a potential outbreak within their facilities.

Many providers have already hired new staff members so they can provide their new hires with additional pandemic and infection control training ahead of time.

CEO of Leading Age Services Australia (LASA), Sean Rooney, says that aged care providers across residential and home care have been highly vigilant for the last two months and have been providing extra training to their staff and bolstering their own workforces.

"Our sector asked to extend visa holders’ work hours from 20 hours per week and welcomed the Government’s agreement, which has given hundreds of providers confidence to increase hours and provide continuity of care," says Mr Rooney.

"Many providers have been hiring extra staff for the past month and looking to extend their new staff rosters as contingencies arise."

Aged care provider, Luson Care in Geelong, Victoria, expanded their casual staff roster and started to ramp up their pandemic management plan in preparation for the coronavirus soon after the virus started to impact other countries outside of China.

Joint Managing Director of Luson Care, Nick Yannopoulos, says the organisation has talked through different precautionary scenarios to be prepared for what the coronavirus may bring, including what would happen if the company lost 20 percent of its staff.

Luson Care developed a COVID-19 specialist squad with staff members who were willing to step up and take responsibility for residents if they became infected with the coronavirus.

The organisation has also been increasing its casual staff pool in case their workforce is impacted.

"We are making sure we know where our casuals are working [and coming] from. Some casuals work between providers, we are trying to ascertain who is doing what, where, so we can better control the situation in our area," says Mr Yannopoulos.

Mr Yannopoulos also mentioned that they immediately reached out to the Government and peak bodies about lifting working restrictions on students and anyone with working visas in aged care so there was a larger cohort of workers to hire.

"We are ready if [the coronavirus] does come through and ready if it doesn't. We are just trying to prevent and minimise the impact it will have on our home," says Mr Yannopoulos.

Education and upskilling

Many providers are taking the opportunity to upskill and further train their staff in infection control and pandemic control. In many cases, some providers have made it mandatory for their staff to have COVID-19 health training and are able to demonstrate they have that training confidently.

While healthcare and aged care workers have this training, it is important for workers to continue refreshing old skills and education as well as adapt to any new changes put in place by the Government.

Healthcare Australia (HCA) has been providing online training modules for individuals and organisations in the aged care industry for over 11 years. 

In response to COVID-19, they have recently added three new online training modules, separated between clinical health workers, residential aged care workers and carers in the community, to their training library, which provides general information about the coronavirus, when staff should be at work, when they should isolate from work, and when staff need to seek testing.

There is also information around preventing coronavirus getting into the workplace and if there is an outbreak, what a staff member's role would be at that time.

Marnie Stevens, Course Reviewer at HCA, says that at the beginning of all of their COVID-19 courses, it reminds the viewers that it is an ever changing environment and that staff should be keeping up to date with information and rule changes.

"It is really about the workers getting the right information and knowing where to go for updated information on a daily basis. Obviously, with social media and the media in general, the mixed messages about what is right and what is wrong, it can be really confusing. For people that are working with the most vulnerable, they need that accurate information," says Ms Stevens.

"This course content will be really helpful for them on what to say [and do] and how to provide that support to everybody in this difficult time."

The Government Department of Health has also released a number of COVID-19 related training modules to prepare the aged care sector, and the whole public, for best practices during this time.

Mr Rooney, says, "Residential and home care providers have implemented extra infection control training for all staff, often conducted by Registered Nurses.

"Some services have mandated infection and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) training for staff at each shift changeover.

"Meanwhile, thousands of aged care staff have completed the Department of Health’s COVID-19 training modules including Personal Safety, Families and Visitors, Outbreak Management and PPE."

Detailed strategies some providers have implemented include the formation of specialist COVID-19 care squads, extensive contingency plans, practising scenario-based responses and resourcing more staff and supplies.

One facility in the Northern Beaches of Sydney, Allambie Heights Villages, has been undertaking a number of new protocols and procedures to keep their residents and staff safe.

CEO of Allambie Heights Villages, Ciarán Foley, says that their aged care facility was preparing for the worst of COVID-19 six weeks ago and put together a COVID-19 action team dedicated to preventing the virus from entering the facility.

"We were using the COVID action team to absorb and then disseminate the information that was coming to us from so many different departments. There was so much information coming at us, it was overwhelming. It was about absorbing and disseminating that information immediately," says Mr Foley.

Every staff member at Allambie Heights Villages, no matter if they already had the training, was required to do courses around infection control, proper procedures around handwashing and safety, and the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

The facility slowly progressed to a full lockdown last week on Tuesday, which Mr Foley says went very smoothly with staff, residents and their family and friends thanks to the management keeping every party informed early on that the lockdown would be a reality.

While it has been a difficult time, Mr Foley is really impressed with the dedication of staff and the understanding he has seen from residents and their families and friends.

"It is important for everyone to stay confident, stay safe, and remember our residential aged care facilities or the aged care industry, we have experts looking after older people, this is what we do best and this is our job, to care," says Mr Foley.

For more information about coronavirus, visit the Aged Care Guide's COVID-19 update page. 

Do you have any questions about the coronavirus that you want answered? Tell us in the comments below or email journalist@dps.com.au.

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