The government is investigaitng how to expand the surge workforce including talking to the defence force, says the health and aged care minister.
COVID-19 is exacerbating existing workforce shortages to leave providers with tens of thousands of staff short of their needs. And the situation is likely to get worse as the peak has not yet been reached.
The residential aged care sector is currently experiencing “a very significant rise in the number of residential aged homes managing active outbreaks” with 918 reported aged care facilities with active outbreaks compared to 737 a week before, deputy chief medical officer Michael Kidd told providers on Monday.
The Department of Health and Aged Care’s surge workforce of mostly nurses and care workers filled about 1,900 shifts in aged care facilities impacted by COVID-19 last week. The Australian Defence force has be scaling down its involvement and currently has15 personnel deployed.
The number of shifts filled by the department’s surge workforce last week was more than during the peak of January’s Omicron wave, Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler told a press conference this week.
“We’re looking at ways in which we can expand that,” Mr Butler said on Tuesday. “We’re also in discussions with the ADF, which had been starting to roll down its presence in aged care facilities,” he said.
“We’re talking to the ADF still right now about what ability they have to continue to contribute – to continue to support members in aged care as well and obviously talking to the sector. We’ll have more to say about that shortly.”
Aged and Community Care Providers Association is in regular discussions with the department on likely future needs for aged care workforce during this current wave, said interim CEO Paul Sadler on Wednesday.
“The increased availability in surge workforce including the ADF over the past week has been welcome,” Mr Sadler told Australian Ageing Agenda.
He said the numbers of staff isolating or on leave due to illness were fluctuating daily. “At the moment, we’re hearing 10-15 per cent is a common number of absences, but we are worried this will rise in coming weeks to a similar level to January which saw 30 per cent.”
As at 15 July 2022, surge workforce staff have filled 117,683 shifts in aged care services impacted by COVID-19, the department’s weekly report shows, up from 115,751 the week before.These shifts include roles for general practitioners, nurses, care workers, allied health workers, executive and ancillary staff. The ADF has supported a cumulative total of 469 facilities have been supported so far.