Benetas residential manager Rakesh Sarkar says it has been the most challenging year of his working life.

Mr Sarkar said he has received 100 to 150 calls a day and worked for two and a half months straight.

“The family members just wanted to be reassured of what we were doing on the ground to protect their loved ones,” he said.

“We made the choice very early on that everything that happened in the home would be transparent and disclosed with the residents and their families.”

Mr Sarkar was speaking at Benetas’ annual industry breakfast on 24 November, which this year featured a panel of frontline staff and other stakeholders discussing the impact of COVID-19.

The discussion aimed to reflect on the year, how coronavirus has impacted people’s lives and the importance of coming together. 

Mr Sarkar is residential manager at Benetas St George’s in Altona Meadows, which reported its first positive COVID-19 case on 7 July in a staff member.

The facility went on to have 67 positive cases linked to it including 35 staff and 32 residents, with 10 of those residents passing away, a spokesperson for Benetas said.

The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services declared the outbreak over on 26 September.

Mr Sarkar said he has got through this challenging time thanks to Benetas’ regional business manager by his side every day, and the endless support from families and the local community.

Rakesh Sarkar speaking at the industry breakfast

He said Benetas got through the COVID outbreaks by working collaboratively and coming together.

“I had frontline employees infected with COVID-19 call me every few days to say that they would be back at work as soon as they were cleared. That’s not something every provider had the benefit of,” he said.

David Bradie

Benetas aged care resident David Bradie also shared his experience at the breakfast where he called for respect.

“We have knowledge and experience and we should be respected,” Mr Bradie said.

Benetas staff came together during COVID to support residents, he said.

“They really looked after us no matter what we wanted, they had it. Even if we didn’t want it, they came and gave it to us,” Mr Bradie said.

Sean Rooney

Leading Age Services Australia CEO Sean Rooney told the panel it was and was an understatement to refer to 2020 as a “rough” year for those in aged care.

“We were doing the best in very challenging circumstances, with limited resources and with significant public scrutiny. We needed political leaders to be supporting and encouraging us and not criticising us, as we put all our efforts into protecting vulnerable older Australians and the workers that cared for them,” Mr Rooney said.

Benetas CEO Sandra Hills said the breakfast aimed to bring together experts and leaders to reflect on important themes in the sector.

“They’re incredibly valuable in bringing us together and reminding us of what’s important when it comes to delivering strong services for older Australians,” Ms Hills told Australian Ageing Agenda.

Sandra Hills

“Given what an incredibly long and hard year 2020 had been for all across our organisation, we really wanted to give this the recognition it deserved and reflect on what was most vital in getting us through,” she said.

Ms Hills reiterated the importance of coming together as a sector under challenging times. 

“The event captured this loud and clear from people on the ground to those implementing critical policy responses, and it was incredibly successful in reminding us of the impact we all make, and reassuring us that amongst the challenges, 2020 did not break us,” she said.

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