By Amy Cheng

Both the government and the national aged care safety and quality regulator are failing to understand the practicalities of home care delivery in Australia, an industry forum has heard.

Leading Age Services Australia (LASA) held its online webinar ‘From Pandemic to Endemic: The Future of Aged Care and COVID-19’ on Tuesday.

The virtual forum explored the latest thinking and evidence on what living with COVID-19 means for the aged care sector.

Nick Loudon

Nick Loudon, CEO of Brisbane-based home care provider Envigor, said he was frustrated by the lack of progress in Queensland on mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for home care staff.

“(The government) seems to think it’s all about us sitting here and being told what we need to do next and waiting to get a mandate from them. I think when it comes to home care that is very, very risky,” he said at the webinar.

“I don’t believe that the (federal and state health) departments or the (Aged Care Quality and Safety) Commission have anywhere near the understanding of the practicalities of the home care delivery in this country that they ought to have.”

More collaboration was needed with the government to come up with a better solution, he said.

“We need to have genuine engagement with these authorities to come up with practical solutions to continue to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the most vulnerable people that we look after,” he said.

Managing risks

To live with COVID going forward, it is important to understand the risk profile of clients, Mr Loudon said.

“We need to know at all times who are the high-risk clients and the essential services we need … and who are the incredibly low-risk clients and how we may mitigate risk to them and to our staff,” he said.

“If the only service that we’re providing is a clean once a week, well, in my mind, that’s a service that can be put on hold until the COVID situation is sorted out.

“The real risk … is the COVID disease, not having their floor mopped, but there’s a greater risk in our having staff go in there, and then potentially go to see another client.”

Fellow panellist Michelle Jenkins, CEO of Community Vision Australia, said home care providers need to ensure staff are kept safe.

Michelle Jenkins

“We need to make sure that we’re not only keeping the client safe and our workforce safe, but that we’re protecting our businesses to continue to be able to deliver services into the future,” she said.

“If we want to retain our staff, we need to make sure that we’re supporting them in every way that we possibly can.”

This this will mean increased COVID testing of the workforce to ensure staff are not taking COVID into a client’s home.

“Because at the end of the day, we know that we will be the ones that will get the blame for that,” she said.

“It wouldn’t be a family member, it wouldn’t be somebody else, it would always be the support worker because it generally is the way that it works is the support worker gets the blame.”

Looking ahead

Over the next 12 months, Mr Loudon believes it will be important for home care staff to work together as a team.

“I think the most crucial thing for us is understanding the true value and strengths of the team that you have,” he said.  

His team has set up systems that now run as business as usual, including an outbreak management team.

The team reports daily on the status of their workforce and who is unwell, with information about their testing status and symptoms.

This information is then passed onto contract tracers and government and health departments.

“We can keep a finger on where we are with our clients and our workforce every day as business as usual now,” he said.

“I think it’s just going to be an evolving situation, but I think, in many respects, it’s also going to become business as usual.

“So, what we need to be doing going forward is setting up new systems so that it doesn’t become an enormous impasse for us.”

This story first ran on Community Care Review

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