The Federal Government is supplying half a million reusable face shields for Victorian residential aged care staff and an additional 5 million face masks for providers in the COVID-stricken state.
Aged care workers in the state are now advised to wear face shields as a precationary measure.
Minister for Health Greg Hunt said the initiative would immediately assist around 770 residential aged care facilities.
He announced the additional personal protective equipment during a press conference on Tuesday along with new information on the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre and a national call out for health staff.
The new PPE includes 500,000 reusable face shields to all residential aged care services across Victoria for staff use and a further 5 million face masks from the National Medical Stockpile for Victorian aged care providers.
Mr Hunt said in a statement on Wednesday that the use of PPE was vital in preventing the spread of COVID-19.
“All aged care workers across Victoria are now required to wear face masks and, as an additional precautionary measure, will be advised to wear face shields,” he said.
Face shields are designed to cover the sides of the face and below the chin. They may be reusable or disposable, and worn together with surgical masks.
The new release of face masks from the national stockpile is in addition to the 4 million surgical masks made available to aged care services on July 13.
Elsewhere at the press conference Mr Hunt said Victoria’s decision today to make additional hospital beds available was a recognition of the level of outbreak within Victoria (read more here).
“It’s appropriate and it’s one which we fully support to reaffirm that.”
Response centre focused on workforce, residents’ health
Mr Hunt said the biggest challenge for aged care came when the Public Health Unit determined that a significant number of staff or all staff needed to isolate due to an infection in a facility.
“When all staff have to isolate with little or no notice, then that means that there are residents that have to be cared for,” he said.
This key task is why the Commonwealth and Victorian governments have jointly established the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre, Mr Hunt said.
The two fundamental responsibilities of the centre, which was announced last Saturday, are bringing workforce in and transferring residents to hospital where they need that additional support, Mr Hunt said.
Emergency Management Australia head of response Joe Buffone is the executive leader of the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre.
The key focus of the centre is to unify the effort across every aspect of the aged care sector, Mr Buffone said.
“That’s with the providers, that’s with the aged care workers, that’s with the Victorian Government, and also, across the Australian Government,” Mr Buffone told the press conference.
He said they have significant expertise supporting the centre.
“We have specialist geriatricians, we have ADF, we have doctors, we have nurses, we have emergency management specialists; all contributing to unify the effort.”
The centre’s first focus of is the immediate response.
“We’ve got three facilities right now, that there is significant effort. And the priority of quality of care and safety for the residents is number one and then the safety of staff is in there as well; critical factors,” Mr Buffone said.
All decisions around whether residents stay in situ or have to be moved out are made by experts, he said.
The second focus area is the workforce, which includes care staff as well as all the people essential to aged care such as cleaning and catering staff.
“We need the workforce. They are specialist people in their own right. They understand the aged care system. So we have, again, a team of experts that are working up models of workforce.
The centre’s third focus is around preventing further outbreaks.
“So we’ve got, again, a team of specialists and you’ve heard the shift in recommendations of the use of face masks, the distribution of those, and making sure that the facilities have the PPE or the protective equipment that they need.”
ADF, AUSMAT, interstate staff key to response
Elsewhere Mr Hunt said 1,463 Australian Defence Force members were in Victoria with a range of responsibilities including supporting aged care.
“Overnight, we have had ADF medics step into an aged care facility to ensure there was support on-site. And in addition, they are very involved in the tracing program,” he said.
The Federal Government is also providing Australian Medical Assistance Teams (AUSMAT) to Victoria and calling on interstate nursing staff to help out.
In response to a question Mr Hunt said the Government has not dropped the ball on aged care given the problems in New South Wales aged care with COVID.
“No, I think it’s actually the opposite. It’s precisely because of the experience we’ve had that we’re able to set up an aged care response centre.”