New South Wales and Queensland aged care provider Whiddon has begun daily rapid COVID-19 testing at its home in south-west Sydney to protect residents and staff during the state’s evolving outbreak.

Whiddon Easton Park in Glenfield commenced using rapid antigen tests on Tuesday to screen staff at the beginning of every shift and other people entering the home, such as contractors and visitors, to ensure they are COVID-free.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration approved test aims to detect antigens found on the surface of the coronavirus and delivers a result in 10 minutes.

The voluntary test is administered by Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency health care practitioners at multiple stations set up at various entry points to the home.

Whiddon CEO Chris Mamarelis said the provider implemented the rapid testing stations at Glenfield because the home was in a high-risk location.

Chris Mamarelis

“South-west Sydney itself is high risk… so the decision has been made to minimise risk and ensure the safety of our residents and employees at this really critical point in the pandemic,” Mr Mamarelis told Australian Ageing Agenda.

NSW reported 65 new cases on Thursday, including 28 active in the community while infectious, among a total of 929 positive cases since the outbreak began on 16 June.

Mr Mamarelis said 99 per cent of the home’s employees welcomed and had taken the test.

“Of the people that didn’t take the test, one had a medical condition and there was some confusion with another on the first day,” he said.

Rapid testing provides an extra layer of risk management and protection to everyone at the home, Mr Mamarelis said.

The benefit is protecting residents, the employees and their team mates and also providing peace of mind for families of both employees and residents. It’s an extra layer of security.”

He said this is an important measure while the vaccination of staff continues.

“Across Whiddon, staff vaccination rates are in the vicinity of 15-20 per cent. At our Glenfield home, it’s likely the vaccination rate will exceed 50 per cent by the week’s end because we have a Commonwealth in-reach team who are going to be vaccinating the whole site over the next two days,” he said.

A Whiddon staff member with a rapid antigen test

Whiddon Easton Park will continue rapid testing for COVID-19 for the next 14 days and potentially extend the practice if the lockdown and outbreak continue, Mr Mamarelis said.

He said all aged care providers should look at rapid testing to protect residents and staff from COVID-19, but he warned it was not sustainable to implement over the long-term.

“We need something that’s more viable. The only way that we can do that is through having some level of Commonwealth or state support so that all providers small and large can access it,” he said.

Other providers looking to rollout a similar initiative should partner with a company with expertise in rapid testing and involve staff in the plan, Mr Marmarelis said.

“We’ve communicated with… our employees to bring them along the journey and help them understand that we’re doing this as much for them as we’re doing it for our residents and their families as well.”

Whiddon will look at deploying rapid COVID-19 testing at any other homes in high-risk locations, he said.

Main image: Rapid antigen testing at Whiddon Easton Park

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