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Aged care services impacted by Cyclone Debbie


Cyclone Debbie as it made landfall at 12.15pm on Tuesday.

More than 175 RSL Care + RDNS aged care residents in north Queensland are sheltering in temporary accommodation, while the home care services of providers including Blue Care and Pres Care remain suspended in affected areas.

Severe tropical cyclone Debbie crossed the coast between Bowen and Airlie Beach at 12.15pm local time on Tuesday as a category 4 cyclone blowing sustained winds near the centre of 185 kilometres per hour and wind gusts to 260 kilometres per hour, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

Debbie was downgraded at 3am and while it loses intensity providers say communities and services are still experiencing extreme weather conditions with many turning their attention to rising water levels.

Leading Age Services Australia said aged care services implemented their emergency management plans in the 24-48 hours before the cyclone reached the mainland.

The peak’s CEO Sean Rooney told Australian Ageing Agenda that some of his members evacuated all or parts of their facilities in preparation for Cyclone Debbie while community providers ensured clients’ emergency plans were activated and staff were safe.

It is expected that providers may experience staff shortages, power failure and potentially reduced access to necessary supplies, he said.

“Aged care providers in cyclone affected parts of Queensland are resilient and have invested significant time and resources into developing highly effective disaster management protocols for all possible weather events,” Mr Rooney said.

Facilities evacuate

RSL Care + RDNS reported at 4.30pm on Tuesday that its 36 aged care residents sheltering at the Bowen Bowls Club, which was near the centre of the cyclone, were safe and in good spirits, and that the club’s building still had the roof intact and had not suffered significant structural damage despite some reports to the contrary.

It said a number of Queensland communities and services were still experiencing extreme weather conditions linked to the cyclone.

On Sunday, the provider had safely evacuated 48 residents from Cunningham Villas in Bowen and 102 residents from RSL Care Rowes Bay in Townsville, while 27 residents from the Bicentennial Retirement Community at Mackay were evacuated on Monday, all on advice from local authorities.

Residents were relocated to the local bowls club and family homes in Bowen, to two nearby aged care facilities and family homes in Townsville, and to the nearby Breezes site in Mackay.

RSL Care staff are caring for residents at the Bowen evacuation site and RSL Care staff are at the two facilities in Townsville to support clients, the provider said.

On Wednesday the provider confirmed that all its residents were safe and communities remained on floodwatch.

Home care suspended

Home care services in Townsville and Mackay have been suspended since Monday afternoon, while sites and community services in and near Bundaberg and Rockhampton were continuing their severe weather preparations on Tuesday, RSL Care + RDNS reported.

Also in Mackay, PresCare reported that all of its community services were cancelled on Tuesday and most likely also for Wednesday.

CEO Greg Skelton told AAA his staff checked on clients during Monday evening to ensure all had food and water while services were suspended and that the organisation planned to check in with staff by phone at 10am and 2pm on Tuesday.

On Wednesday Mr Skelton confirmed there were no community services being provided in Mackay and that client emergency support plans had been actioned.

Similarly, Blue Care cancelled its home and respite services for the communities and surrounding areas of Ingham, Townsville, Ayr, Bowen, Proserpine, Mackay and St Lawrence on Monday.

At 7.30pm on Tuesday the provider said services in Ingham and Townsville would recommence today while those in Ayr, Charters Towers, Bowen, Proserpine, Mackay and Sarina remained cancelled until further notice.

Flood watch

Yesterday evening Blue Care also reported all of its sites in cyclone affected areas were now on flood watch and prepared for the impact of potential flooding.

The provider said there had been no reports of serious damage to any of Blue Care’s sites and that all clients and residents remained safe and well.

Blue Care said there was still no plan to evacuate any Blue Care facilities in cyclone affected areas but they remained on flood watch and would liaise with emergency services and take their advice if the situation changed.

All Blue Care employees and volunteers were trained for cyclone events and facilities and services had taken precautions to secure the safety of people and property including provision for food, water and medications as well as contingency for loss of power, the provider said.

Official emergency information is available at:

New disaster resource for services

Coincidentally, a new guide was launched last Monday to help health professionals deal with natural and man-made disasters.

Disaster Health Management: a primer for students and practitioners has been edited by Professor Gerry FitzGerald from QUT’s School of Public Health. It covers events including Cyclone Yasi, the US Ebola outbreak and Victoria’s bushfires.

“Disaster health management is an emerging but rapidly growing field focusing on health problems caused by disasters throughout the continuum of prevention, preparation, response and recovery,” Professor FitzGerald said.

The book features the work of 54 authors from around the world and provides an overview of the principles and practice underpinning disaster health management from prevention to recovery, he said.

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