Aged care provider and consumer peak bodies have welcomed the government’s winter plan to manage COVID and inflluenza outbreaks in aged care, and the reinstatement of pandemic leave payments. But concerns over surge workforce remain.

As of 15 July, there are 7,947 active COVID-19 cases among residents (5,212) and staff (2,735) in 857 active outbreaks in aged care facilities across Australia, government data shows.

Minister for Aged Care Anika Wells launched Winter Plan – A guide for residential aged care providers on Thursday. It followed a meeting earlier in the week with the chief and deputy medical officers and Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner Janet Anderson “to hear all ideas and ensure that we are leaving no stone unturned when it comes to our response to this current wave,” she told providers on Monday.

Anika Wells

“[The plan] is all about helping residents, providers and aged care workers through the worst of this winter’s wave,” Ms Wells said.

The guide provides a framework for the sector during 2022 to adapt its current outbreak preparedness and response, and the supports provided by the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care Department. The plan covers the three phases of readiness, response, and recovery and resilience and is borken into the five key parts:

  • vaccination
  • antiviral access
  • proactive engagement
  • visitor and worker safety
  • infection control training.

It sets out provision for infection control training and supplies of PPE, RATs and antivirals. It also includes separate preparedness checklists for the residential and home aged care sector as well as guidance and resources for aged care homes.

Aged & Community Care Providers Association interim CEO Paul Sadler welcomed the plan, adding it was originally called for by the Australian Aged Care Collaboration in the wake of the Omicron wave over summer.

He has also welcomed the federal government’s decision to extend measures to support workers infected by COVID-19.

Paul Sadler

“The extension until the end of September of pandemic leave payments for casual workers will provide assurance to aged care workers that they can safely isolate while ill and be able to support themselves and their families,” he said.

“However, we are disappointed there has not been any additional funding commitment for infection prevention measures for residential and home care providers, or in relation to surge workforce supply.”

Mr Sadler said a key pressure point for all providers of residential care, home and community care remains availability of surge workforce.

“It is disappointing that the government has not made an additional commitment in relation to surge workforce given the peak of this current wave is expected to hit in the next few weeks,” Mr Sadler said

“At the beginning of this year we had aged care providers on their knees, many with up to 30 per cent of their workforce ill or close contacts and unavailable to work.”

The Older Persons Advocacy Network acting CEO Karen Doyle also welcomed the winter plan and increased access to antiviral treatments.

“We know older people are at higher risk of complications, so it’s important that we step up and support them as COVID and influenza cases increase,” she said. “Vaccination remains the best form of protection against COVID, so it’s time for us to roll up our sleeves,” Ms Doyle said.

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