Provider groups have welcomed the government’s latest measures to support the aged care sector’s COVID-19 response, but there are calls for more action to prevent outbreaks.
Following Friday’s meeting of government leaders, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that National Cabinet endorsed a Commonwealth, state and territory plan to strengthen the aged care sector’s preparedness for responding to a rapid escalation of COVID-19.
The plan includes actions for Commonwealth, state and territory governments such as ongoing assessment of the preparedness of aged care providers, risk profiling by the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, an audit of state and territory emergency response capabilities and additional face-to-face infection control training.
Mr Morrison also announced an aged care group to advise the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee to support the national public health emergency response to COVID-19 in aged care.
The 14-member group, chaired by Department of Health Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Michael Kidd, includes members with expertise in the aged care sector, infection control, emergency preparedness and public health response including one provider representative (see below for details).
As Australian Ageing Agenda previously reported, Mr Morrison also announced a $171 million boost to the pandemic aged care response package and a guide endorsed by National Cabinet on how the states and territories could implement a similar entity to the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre if needed (read more here).
Calls for more prevention measures
The CEO of aged care provider peak body Aged and Community Services Australia, Patricia Sparrow, welcomed the measures to provide support for outbreaks but said they wouldn’t do enough to prevent them.
“The latest announcement of funds is just another stopgap. It is not enough to act as a prevention measure. It’s just more of the same drip-feed that’s kept aged care on life support even prior to the pandemic.
“A national aged care advisory group could be another step forward but only if it ensures resources like infection control experts as they have in hospitals and increases staff. Undertaking audits and reviews is not an end in itself,” she said.
Ms Sparrow said there was no guarantee the virus wouldn’t get into aged care facilities while there were community transmissions so policies should target this and support early intervention.
“The better alternative is the kind of investment that will save lives and health budgets,” she said.
That includes all states and territories transferring the first COVID-positive residents in a facility to hospital, routine testing of all staff including those who are asymptomatic, infection control specialists in aged care homes and paid pandemic leave, Ms Sparrow told Australian Ageing Agenda.
The CEO of fellow provider peak body Leading Age Services Australia, Sean Rooney, also welcomed the measures.
“The establishment of a national advisory group is part of LASA’s recent recommendations to our state and national leaders, based on the lessons learned from the fight against the coronavirus in aged care,” Mr Rooney said.
He said the state-based aged care response centres could play a key role in translating national policy and guidance into state and local planning and practice.
“This means they will need to plan for outbreaks, stress test these strategies and be the single point of coordination in response to actual outbreaks.
“This includes having in place appropriate systems and processes to manage hospital transfers, surge workforce availability, and personal protective equipment access and disposal,” Mr Rooney said.
Mr Rooney also called for a clear and unambiguous commitment to resource and support aged care workers and services with all reasonable and necessary measures including adequate supplies of PPE, paid pandemic leave, funding for additional staff and all other expenses incurred.
Aged care advisory group
The Aged Care Advisory Group is a time-limited appointment to support governments and providers in preparing and planning for prevention, management and recovery of COVID-19 outbreaks in aged care settings.
Aged care provider and consumer representatives include Regis Aged Care managing director and chief executive officer Dr Linda Mellors and Older Persons Advocacy Network CEO Craig Gear.
The rest of the group is made up of government, government agency, practicing and academic chiefs and experts. The terms of reference include providing advice on:
- the public health response to COVID19 in aged care
- the experience of the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre
- further operationalising the already agreed public health response
- high level infection control and proper use of PPE in aged care settings
- developments in outbreak management in aged care in Australia and internationally
- maintaining the quality of life and dignity of aged care recipients during the implementation of COVID-19 response measures.
AAA has sought a response form the Department of Health on the time period this group will be operational.
See the full list of members of the group and its terms of reference here.