Covid management plan launched to bolster aged care system in new year

The federal government released a Covid health management plan for 2023 on Monday, which includes advice for aged care providers.

The federal government released a Covid health management plan for 2023 on Monday, which includes advice for residential, in-home and community aged care providers.

Mark Butler

Launching the document in Adelaide – which was informed by the likely Australian epidemiological outlook for the next 12 months and advice from the chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly – Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler said existing arrangements to protect vulnerable groups in the country would be extended throughout the new year.

“They particularly relate to residential aged care, to residential disability care, and First Nations communities,” Mr Butler said at a press conference.

Taking to Twitter with Minister for Aged Care Anika Wells to promote the health management plan, Mr Butler said: “The government has moved quickly to prepare for Covid waves and bolster our health and aged care systems to protect vulnerable older Australians.”

The National Covid-19 Health Management Plan for 2023 includes supplying providers with personal protective equipment, rapid antigen tests “and other supports for aged care homes,” said Ms Wells.

“We are continuing access to surge workforce with additional workforce ready to be activated,” she added. “These measures will help aged care staff to manage outbreaks effectively and provide residents with the care they need,” said Ms Wells.

With further waves of coronavirus predicted to circulate Australia in coming months, “it remains crucial for aged care services to make sure elderly Australians, for whom they are responsible, in all service settings, receive appropriate protection from, and management of, any Covid-19 infections in their surrounds,” reads the 16-page document.

Aged care providers should ensure that appropriate infection prevention and control measures are in place and to plan for how they will scale up those measures should the need arise.

In the event of an outbreak, the level of protections and restrictions to be applied must be understood by both staff and residents, say document’s the authors.

Preparedness planning should include a dedicated plan in the following key areas:

  • identified leadership and governance for managing an outbreak
  • workforce contingencies
  • resource supply – such as PPE equipment
  • clinical governance
  • communications
  • arrangements to support ongoing visitation and recovery activities – for both older people in their home and those in residential care.

Aged care providers should be regularly assessing the risk to residents of Covid-19 within their facilities and “take all possible steps” to address any outbreaks. This includes establishing screening processes and lock-down zones.

However, the document’s authors call for any measures implemented to be commensurate with the identified risk. “This includes balancing the need for proportionate measures (for example, isolation of residents in their rooms) against maintaining the quality of life and wellbeing of residents.”  

Protections need to be managed in a way “that is cognisant of the rights of senior Australians,” add the authors, who note that “the impact of social isolation on the mental, social, physical and emotional wellbeing of older Australians can be profound.”

With that in mind, the authors recommend that all aged care residents – including those isolating – should have access to at least one essential visitor at all times.

As for staff who test positive for Covid, they should not attend work for at least seven days and until they have no symptoms of Covid-19. This includes staff providing close personal care to an older person in their home or a community setting.

As well, staff should be supported to take leave, including through the payment of leave “even when it might not necessarily be applicable.”

Aged care providers are expected to maintain sufficient staffing levels and have in place arrangements for a backup surge workforce to manage any outbreak that occurs.

Finally, the document’s authors urge residential aged care providers managing Covid outbreaks to engage with the Department of Health and Aged Care on a regular basis. This includes reporting of cases through the My Aged Care provider portal.

The document’s release follows a plea to providers by the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission’s chief clinical advisor Dr Melanie Wroth to maintain vigilance “and not slip back into pre-Covid-19 habits.”

According to government figures – as of 8 December – there were 5,164 active COVID-19 cases in 695 residential aged care facilities across Australia.

Comment on the story below. Follow Australian Ageing Agenda on FacebookX (Twitter) and LinkedIn, sign up to our twice-weekly newsletter and subscribe to AAA magazine for the complete aged care picture.  

Tags: mark-butler, National Covid-19 Health Management Plan for 2023,

1 thought on “Covid management plan launched to bolster aged care system in new year

  1. While the rest of society carries on, aged care remains wrapped in cotton wool regulation. NOT because of resident safety concerns, but to avoid those embarrassing headlines of the last few years. The same regulatory failures that gave us Newmarch House, St Basil’s and Epping Gardens will make sure we’ll be the last out of the gates. Of course, there’s absolutely nothing new here (we already have a confusing array of outbreak management plans developed by every organisation with a pen and some paper) but this is very important because IT LOOKS LIKE WE’RE DOING SOMETHING.
    It’s vague and deliberately unhelpful. It places the onus back on the operater…“This includes balancing the need for proportionate measures (for example, isolation of residents in their rooms) against maintaining the quality of life and wellbeing of residents.” Hmmmm…Perhaps the Public Health Unit should read this guide because they’re only interested in isolation and PPE. (but really only half interested in the actual outbreak because visitors are still allowed????)
    But my favourite part is having a backup workforce…the mythical surge workforce. Seems like only last January that the entire sector’s staffing was decimated by quarantine rules (but happily fixed by 150 army medics deployed after the crisis had peaked). most of us cant even get a full roster of regular staff, let alone have a stable of well-trained unicorns out the back ready to pounce on demand.
    Ahhh…dont we just long for the days of ‘pre-covid habits’…. plenty of highly skilled and well paid staff skipping into work each day knowing that all they had to do was wait for the next gastro or flu outbreak.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *