The peak body for retirement living operators is calling for COVID-19 vaccinations to be mandatory for people working in retirement villages and facilities including home aged care workers.
The vaccine is mandatory for all people working in residential aged care homes from 17 September, but there’s still almost a quarter of staff who are still unvaccinated, according to government figures.
Retirement Living Council executive director Ben Myers said the peak body supported making the COVID-19 vaccine compulsory for all retirement village employees and home care staff who provide care to village residents.
“The Retirement Living Council has engaged with state and federal health ministers and has been meeting with the COVID-19 Vaccination Taskforce to push the opportunity for pop up vaccination clinics for residents, staff and potentially close family members inside retirement communities,” Mr Myers told Australian Ageing Agenda.
The Retirement Living Council wrote to Minister of Health and Aged Care Greg Hunt on 29 July to urge consideration of mandating vaccinations for all people employed under the Aged Care Award 2010 but has notreceived a response from the federal or most state governments, he said.
“One state has responded to advise that vaccinations are not mandatory in retirement communities, and another has written advising our request has been forwarded to the Commonwealth Government. The COVID-19 Vaccination Taskforce has been receptive to the concept of pop-up vaccination clinics,” he said.
The Retirement Living Council wants the vaccine mandated for retirement living employees “as soon as logistically possible,” Mr Myers said.
“It’s important to note that many retirement living employees have already been vaccinated, or are on waiting lists to receive a vaccine. We want to make sure that those who are presently waiting have immediate access, and we want to make sure that residents and other staff are not compromised by a small number of people who don’t want to get vaccinated,” he said.
As at 26 August, 210,603 residential aged care staff (76.9 per cent) have received a COVID-19 vaccination including 149,273 workers (54.5 per cent) who are fully vaccinated according to reporting from 99.9 per cent of facilities, a spokesperson from the Department of Health told AAA.
A conversation worth having
Leading Age Services Australia general manager policy and advocacy Tim Hicks said LASA supported having a conversation about making the vaccine compulsory for people working in retirement living workers.
“However, any question about vaccine mandates in a particular industry really needs to be part of the broader vaccination strategy, and consider mandates across all industries and occupations as well as other potential vaccination incentives,” Mr Hicks told AAA.
Fellow aged care provider peak body Aged and Community Services Australia didn’t comment on the retirement living workforce but it does support compulsory vaccinations for home care workers.
“ACSA would also support the extension of mandatory COVID vaccination to home care workers and the prioritisation of their access to vaccines,” ACSA CEO Patricia Sparrow told AAA.
Liberal member for Leichhardt in Queensland Warren Enstch and Liberal member for Higgins in Victoria Dr Katie Allen have also called this week for the vaccine mandate to be extended to workers providing aged care services inside people’s homes.
No plans to mandate vaccines
The Australian Department of Health said it has no plans to make the COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for retirement living employees.
“Responsibility for regulation of retirement living settings rests with the state and territory governments. Any plans to extend mandatory vaccination to these settings is a matter for each jurisdiction,” a spokesperson for the health department told AAA.
National Cabinet’s decision to mandate the vaccine for people working in residential aged care was based on the advice of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee and no such advice has been provided for home care workers, the spokesperson said.
“While not mandatory for home care workers, they continue to be strongly encouraged to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to protect themselves, their community and the people in their care.”
Due to the outbreak in New South Wales, the State Government has introduced a public health order requiring all home and community aged care workers in 12 areas of concern in western and south-western Sydney to have first dose COVID-19 vaccination by 30 August 2021.
The ruling also extends to residential aged care workers unless they undergo rapid antigen test at their place of work.
As previously reported the federal government has begun a rapid antigen testing pilot in Greater Sydney that aims to reach 50 homes following a successful trial at Whiddon Easton Park in Glenfield in south-west Sydney.
View a list of the 12 LGAs.