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How will aged care providers be keeping you safe from outbreaks this winter?

There has been a steep rise in COVID-19 related aged care deaths in 2022 compared to previous years, encouraging the new Federal Government to put in place a Winter Plan to protect aged care residents.

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With just over 800 aged care facilities around Australia currently experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak, it is important your provider is ready to protect you against viruses. [Source: iStock]

Minister for Aged Care, Anika Wells, told ABC Radio National that this Winter Plan has made sure that "no rock is left unturned" in the Government's response to the latest COVID-19 wave.

"We're launching the Winter Plan today and that response is in five parts - vaccination, antiviral access, proactive engagement, visitor and worker safety, and infection control training," says Minister Wells.

So, what can you expect your aged care provider to do if there is an outbreak in your facility?

What is in the Winter Plan?

The Winter Plan is additional advice from the Government to aged care facilities about keeping you, an aged care resident, safe from COVID-19.

The Government wants to get your aged care providers ready, responsive and resilient to COVID and potential future outbreaks.

With just over 800 aged care facilities around Australia currently experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak, it is important your provider is ready to protect you against the virus.

This includes actively preparing to manage infections, like COVID, influenza or other infectious diseases, that are yet to come to your facility.

You may see a lot of COVID-19 measures put back in place that appeared during the first wave of the pandemic. However, you should not see the widespread lockdowns that were seen in 2020.

Personal Protective Equipment

You may see the return of more Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in your home.

In the instance of an outbreak, the staff at your facility will be donning PPE to prevent the further spread of any virus. You will likely also be required to wear PPE while living in aged care.

Vaccinations encouraged

A lot more COVID-19 in-house vaccination clinics will be popping up in your aged care facilities to vaccinate aged care residents, staff and volunteers.

The Government is encouraging older Australians to get their winter booster, or fourth dose, to protect themselves from COVID-19.

Your aged care provider will be seeking your consent to give you any vaccinations against COVID-19.

You can learn more about the winter booster in our article, 'Winter safety: Getting a 'winter' COVID booster'.

Available COVID-19 treatments

If you do get sick with COVID-19 or the flu, you will have access to oral antivirals through your aged care facility.

All aged care facilities in Australia now have a stockpile of oral antivirals to pull from to treat COVID positive residents.

This will be added protection to ensure the symptoms you experience with COVID or the flu are reduced, and to reduce your likelihood of being hospitalised or dying.

Your provider will first seek your consent, or your family's consent, for you to receive this treatment.

Visitors

Even during a COVID-19 outbreak, you will always have access to one person to visit you to look after your wellbeing as a resident.

Your facility should be taking measures to ensure that you can always have a visitor come in to see you at least once a day.

While some States have opened up aged care facilities for non-vaccinated family and friends to visit loved ones, including in Victoria and New South Wales, your aged care provider may decide not to follow this relaxed rule in order to keep you and other residents safe from the virus.

The decision about whether to let unvaccinated people into the facility will be up to your provider.

Testing

You may need to undergo more testing to ensure COVID-19 isn't in your facility or to see if transmission has occurred. This could be a temperature test or your COVID related tests.

Usually, you will be given a Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) if you are a close contact, have a high risk of exposure, or if you have COVID or influenza symptoms.

Staff

Workforce shortages have been a massive issue over the COVID-19 pandemic, so you can expect that your provider may start segmenting wards so there is no possible way of a virus to jump between areas in a facility.

Some of your regular staff may be limited to one section of your ward, rather than travelling between.

In the case of an outbreak, you will likely see extra staff coming from your provider’s other facilities or from agencies. However, in a staff shortage emergency, your provider may also receive a surge workforce from the Department of Health and Aged Care.

Emergency COVID-19 Leave

If you are worried about staying in your home during an outbreak, you are allowed to leave to move in with family while still retaining your place in your aged care home.

This is called emergency leave, where you can move out of your aged care facility for a period of time while there is a COVID-19 outbreak.

You will need to talk to your provider and agree upon a timeframe for moving out. You will also need to continue to pay your aged care fees and costs while you are living in the community.

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