Residential aged care workers should have access to the now mandatory COVID-19 vaccine at their place of work, aged care CEOs tell Australian Ageing Agenda.
Federal and state government leaders agreed this week to make it mandatory for all workers to have a COVID-19 vaccine a condition of working in aged care facilities with a first dose due by mid-September.
Aged care CEOs have largely welcomed the measure but have also raised concerns about staff getting access to a vaccine.
The CEO of New South Wales and ACT aged care provider RSL LifeCare, Graham Millett, applauded the government’s decision to mandate the COVID vaccine but warned more would be needed to meet the mid-September deadline.
“We have found that the main barrier for many staff has been access to the COVID-19 vaccine. This is a real hurdle that the Government needs to overcome in order to ensure all aged care workers are entirely vaccinated,”Mr Millett told AAA.
“Currently in NSW the wait at vaccination hubs is weeks. Therefore, pop-up clinics at aged care homes will expedite inoculation amongst staff. This approach has worked for residents and there is no reason it will not work for staff,” he said.
To date, RSL LifeCare has 10 per cent of its 2,600 residential aged care workforce fully vaccinated, and a further 10 per cent have had their first dose.
“In order for the remaining 80 per cent to rapidly become vaccinated, the current logistical processes will need to be streamlined. The way to achieve this is to have clinics established on-site,” Mr Millett said.
NSW aged care provider Peninsula Villages CEO Shane Neaves agreed the vaccine should be delivered to staff on-site at aged care homes.
“This is how it should’ve been done in the first place,” Mr Neaves told AAA.
“They need to make it easy – there’s no point in saying staff can take time off to roll up to one of the clinics. They should allow us to do it ourselves on-site or have an in-reach team visit the facility,” Mr Neaves said.
He said 50 of 300 Peninsula Villages’ aged care staff were vaccinated on-site with surplus doses during resident vaccinations in February. A further 70 staff have had their first dose, but they still “have a fair few to get through” Mr Neaves said.
The decision to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine is “better late than never” but it could also make it harder to attract staff to the sector, he said.
“We’re already understaffed and those staff are underpaid based on funding, so with another condition added to that I just don’t see how we’re expected to get people in,” Mr Neaves said.
Victorian aged care provider TLC Healthcare announced this week that eight staff members left the organisation when the provider mandated the COVID-19 vaccine for its workforce in March, CEO Lou Pascuzzi said.
“Of our 1,800 staff, only eight opted to cease their employment with TLC. This resulted in all eligible staff and residents being fully vaccinated with almost 8,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine by the end of April 2021,” Mr Pascuzzi said.
TLC Healthcare successfully applied in February to use in-house immunisation health teams to rollout the vaccine to residents, staff and contractors where they live and work to speed up the rollout.
On-site vaccinations would boost uptake
St Vincent’s Care Services, which has 20 aged care homes in NSW, Queensland and Victoria, is also taking advantage of in-house healthcare teams as a part of Vincent’s Health Australia Group, which includes public and private hospitals that run their own vaccination clinics.
SVCS CEO Lincoln Hopper said the organisation has been supporting and encouraging all staff to receive the vaccine including through onsite clinics at many of their aged care facilities.
“Almost 40 per cent of our more than 2,400 aged care employees have received at least one vaccination, which is above the national average of 33 per cent,” Mr Hopper told AAA.
“We have just finished our NSW onsite clinics for staff with second dose clinics organised from next week. We have seen a high participation rate across the board and expect that to continue. We look forward to developing a similar approach in Queensland,” he said
Mr Hopper said their experience has shown that onsite clinics were the most effective and efficient way for employees to get their vaccinations.
“We will continue to prioritise onsite vaccinations as our method of choice so staff can access these with ease during their working days,” he said.
Mr Hopper said he didn’t foresee any major issues because the vaccine is mandatory just their staff were positive about receiving the flu vaccine.
“I have no doubt, their dedication to our residents and to each other will help us achieve 100 per cent with this vaccine too,” Mr Hopper said.
Catholic Healthcare interim CEO Belinda Moyes also said making it easier for the workforce to access the vaccine was key to improving take up.
“The best way to improve vaccination rates will be to make it as easy as possible for aged care workers to access COVID-19 vaccination including through on-site workplace vaccination,” Ms Moyes told AAA.
The majority of Catholic Healthcare staff have had to access the vaccine from a general practitioners or COVID-19 vaccination hubs, she said.
“We are making sound progress increasing the rate of vaccination of our staff with regular communication, resources and support, however we have more work to do,” Ms Moyes said.
“We are confident that our continued collaboration with local health services, GPs and Government will result in higher rates of aged care workforce vaccination.”
Mercy Health, which has 35 aged care homes across Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia, has also strongly encouraged staff to get vaccinated since the vaccine became available in Australia.
“Any measures that expedite this process are welcomed by Mercy Health,” the spokesperson told AAA.