Elderly are not just flood victims

CEO of ACQ, Nick Ryan, and president of the peak body’s board, Ross Smith, describe the flooding situation in Queensland, as it stands.

Above: Volunteers are a vital part of flood management plans

By Yasmin Noone

Older people should not be viewed as just the victims of Queensland’s flooding disaster but also as the backbone of the many volunteer efforts happening throughout the sunshine state.

This was the message from the CEO of Aged Care Queensland (ACQ), Nick Ryan, as he evaluated the flooding situation, as it stands now.

“While many residents and community care clients are vulnerable, many have long experience of events such as this and have a strong resilience,” Mr Ryan said.

“Many older Australians are also in fact volunteering to help out with the situation. They are not just victims but active contributors who are responding to this event.

“There will be significant infrastructure impacts from this event which will take years to recover from. We will continue to encourage the family members of aged care residents and clients to contact general numbers but also to understand that the lines could be busy as we respond [to everyone’s] needs.”

According to recent flooding reports from authorities, the situation is far from over. It is for this reason that Mr Ryan urges providers to pay attention to flood warnings and be prepared.

Mr Ryan also explained that although many aged care residents will not be evacuated, it is expected that some facilities will have to get ready to evacuate.

That means also preparing residents living with dementia, “for whom familiarity in an environment is essential”.

“We need to medicate them to evacuate them. It also impacts upon those clients who receive community-based care.

“With community care clients, it is often very difficult to know where they are. Often an older person who needs to evacuate doesn’t think to phone their community care provider to say where they are going. So there are a range of impacts.

“It’s a catastrophic event so even where there is no inundation or evacuation, food supplies, telephone networks and internet connections can all be impacted.

“We also know that a number of the administration offices of aged care providers in Milton will be well and truly under four to five metres of water right now.”

CEO of RSL Care, Ross Smith, said that thankfully, none of his organisation’s facilities have needed to be evacuated, thus far. But flooded roads are hindering access to and from facilities in effected areas.

Speaking as the president of the ACQ Board, Mr Smith said that many facilities throughout the state are unable to receive their usual supply of food and medication because of access issues.

And while some nursing homes are coping quite well with the situation, implementing the emergency contingency plans already in place, others have not been so lucky.

Flash flooding in individual areas has left aged care staff who journeyed to work in the morning, stuck inside their workplace with no way out.

“There is a Brisbane facility which has been cut off by huge pools of water from the Brisbane River,” said Mr Smith. “The challenge there is to ensure that they have enough food.

“Some staff can’t go home either. Some can’t get out and left their own medication on the bedside table…And they are cut off from travelling to their nearest pharmacy because of the water.

“There are all sorts of access issues with staff getting into work.…My office normally has about 100 people in it and about 10 people are here today due to the floods. But we will continue to monitor what is happening around the place because the office is dry and we still have power.

“The other administrative stuff is continuing to happen and pay day will continue as it does normally. That’s a very important thing for staff. But that’s not to say that everything is normal around the place.

“Certainly, the whole of Brisbane [is not underwater] but the advice is that you don’t go out unless you need to.”

Mr Smith mentioned that staff in one facility have been unable to transport a resident’s deceased body to the funeral parlour because surrounding roads have been closed. And in the midst of power outages, staff are taking all the necessary precautions to ensure that cook-chilled food does not fall below the recommended temperature.

Given the difficulties, Mr Smith said that most facilities are coping well, hiring generators before power is lost and purchasing extra fuel and food.

But in situations where this is impossible, the SES are flying in food and medications to aged care facilities and other vulnerable communities as a matter of priority.

Looking on the bright side of disaster, Mr Smith stressed that “life goes on”.

“We have to make sure that by managing a local issue, we don’t take our eye off the ball in those other areas, like supporting facilities in accreditation and helping them to best prepare for [visits by the agency], not withstanding the circumstances.

“We regard this, not as a crisis but as just part of our emergency planning.

“…Above all, you have to appreciate what the staff do and thank them for it. Tomorrow is another day.”

ACQ asks the families of aged care residents and community care clients to contact their individual proviers to see if any donations are required. If not, ACQ encourages donations to the Premier’s flood relief appeal. For more information visit www.qld.gov.au.

Flood Emergency Information
Disaster Recovery Hotline: 1800 173 349
State Emergency Service: 132 500

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