Psychosocial, physical and nutritional health and wellbeing are three key areas aged care providers must include in their outbreak management plan, the aged care regulator’s chief clinician has told an industry forum.

Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission chief clinical advisor Dr Melanie Wroth said aged care providers need to be aware of the impacts of COVID-19 outbreaks can have on residents.

There are three common issues residents are likely to experience as a result of being isolated regardless of whether they have COVID, are in hospital, or remain in the aged care home , Dr Wroth told a webinar on being prepared for a COVID-19 outbreak on Monday.

Dr Melanie Wroth

The first is a psychosocial decline where people become depressed, lonely, frightened, bored and very anxious, Dr Wroth said.

“[The second is] the physical decondition, where people who are stuck in their rooms and have less activity lose their muscle strength often permanently and that consequently has implications for reduced independent functioning, frailty and falls,” she said.

“The third one is nutrition, where people eating in their own rooms have many reasons to lose their appetite and where monitoring of intake and support processes no longer occur.”

These three areas “all impact profoundly on the status and the quality of life of residents.” Dr Wroth said.

“It is really important that COVID outbreak planning addresses these proactively so that as far as possible they’re prevented rather than waiting to realise they’ve happened in a fortnight, because they will happen.”

Lessons from managing a COVID-19 outbreak

The webinar also heard from the CEO of aged care and retirement living provider IRT Group, Patrick Reid, who shared  key learnings from an outbreak at IRT Thomas Holt Kirrawee Aged Care Centre in Sydney.

IRT Group was notified that a staff member had worked one shift while infectious on 7 August this year.

Mr Reid said the Delta variant meant far more staff members were furloughed than they had expected. To minimise the impact, IRT put its staff into cohorts, he said.

Patrick Reid

“[We were] making sure that they were sticking to a single building… trying to make sure that we were cohorting staff so they were on the same shift, they were on the same floor if possible, and not moving too often between buildings unless it was absolutely necessary,” Mr Reid told the webinar.

“Those things make your workforce planning quite difficult, particularly at the moment where workforce shortages are hitting all of us. But that was an important aspect in terms of minimising the number of staff who were furloughed.”

Mr Reid said they understood it was also important to communicate early with staff.

“What we learned from Victoria and from other outbreaks was you can’t over communicate in this scenario, he said.

“For us, it really was around communication early and often with staff and being honest with them about what’s going on but also reassuring them,” Mr Reid said.

“We had a lot of people quite nervous about coming to a potentially infected site,” he said.

“[We made sure] they understood that with the PPE, with donning and doffing, the protocols that we have, there was nowhere safer in Sydney at that point in time where they’re going to work because of all these scenarios and the effort that we put in around minimising any spread of the disease,” he said.

Mr Reid recommended aged care providers constantly review outbreak management plans and speak to other homes about what they are doing.

“We’re on version 29 at the moment and we’re about to release version 30,” he said.

“It’s critical that you don’t get isolated as a provider. You do have resources around you in terms of other providers.”

The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission’s Being ready for a COVID-19 outbreak webinar took place on 30 August.

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1 Comment

  1. I thought my post was pending moderation but it seemed to have not come through…

    I wanted to validate recognition of psychosocial decline in older people through the pandemic. I would say the same is possibly experienced for a cohort of people onHCPs, STRC and other programs that support older people to live at home.

    The aged care sector has yet to create a dedicated subset of its workforce who can support psychosocial recovery. May I recommend that counsellors, with an interest, qualifications and skills in working with older people, are also embraced as part of the response to psychosocial decline? Certainly, there’s an option for a stepped approach to psychosocial care where counsellors, psychologists, mental health social workers etc are part of that support network. We know that with increased ageing, people experience a range of losses in their life, not limited to loss of a significant person in their life.

    I have and will constantly advocate for counsellors and appreciate discussions by aged care stakeholders with PACFA as an example to understand the world of counsellors and counselling.

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