Access to personal protective equipment and maintaining an adequate number of staff are among key workforce concerns aged care providers raised at a recent forum, provider peak bodies tells Australian Ageing Agenda.
Approximately 70 aged care stakeholders including representatives of peak bodies, providers, workers, consumers and experts attended the Department of Health’s Aged Care COVID-19 Preparedness Forum on Friday (read our story here).
Aged and Community Services Australia CEO Patricia Sparrow said the forum provided an opportunity to share key issues and concerns surrounding COVID-19.
For providers that includes making sure personal protective equipment is available to aged care services, she said.
“One of the key elements of staff feeling confident and being able to come to work is if they have that protective equipment,” Ms Sparrow told AAA.
“Naturally, workers are feeling nervous and we’re trying to make sure that they get the information that they need to feel confident to be able to come to work and know they will be ok,” she said.
She said they also talked about increased delivery of infection control and prevention training.
Aged care providers are currently screening all visitors before they enter a facility, Ms Sparrow said.
“One of our key messages all through this is if you’re feeling unwell and if you’ve got any doubt, do not come in and visit given the risks that there are for older people,” she said.
Leading Age Services Australia CEO Sean Rooney, who was also at the forum, said Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy stressed the effectiveness of PPE and infection control practices in reducing the risk of infection.
“The Chief Medical Officer gave assurance that as long as the personal protective equipment and infection controls protocols are taken, than the risk of infection and transmission is significantly diminished,” Mr Rooney told AAA.
Options to increase workforce shortages
Mr Rooney said they discussed utilising international workers to increase the number of people in the workforce in the event that more staff are required.
“We know that we have a number of workers in the sector that are international workers on a visa, and they’re allowed under current controls to work up to 20 hours a week. We could look to increase the hours that they are available to work,” he said.
Mr Rooney said they also talked about the potential need to call on recent graduates and current students of primary, acute or aged care to conduct specific tasks in the event of workforce shortages.
However, he said nothing was agreed and it was unclear which options if any will be implemented, he said.
Mr Rooney said COVID-19 was a community-wide issue that required responsibility from all parties.
“We are certainly here to protect older Australians and the people that care for them and that’s not just the role for the sector, it’s a role for the entire community, so personal responsibility is really important,” Mr Rooney said.
Staff paramount to operations
Minister for Aged Care Richard Colbeck said the welfare of aged care residents relied on the availability of staff.
“There is no reason for staff at aged care centres to avoid going to work unless they are showing symptoms, have been in contact with somebody showing symptoms or have been specifically ordered to isolate,” Mr Colbeck said.
“Providers deal with infection control in aged care centres regularly.”
He said the COVID-19 Plan outlines current and planned measures.
“State and territory governments have public health systems which promote the safety and security of people in aged care settings, and support outbreak investigation and management in residential aged care facilities,” he said.
Mr Colbeck said providers have been contacted with information to pass to staff, residents and their families.
The forum also discussed the importance of aged care providers to:
- maintain infection control protocols
- activate their facility’s COVID-19 emergency response plan
- finalise arrangements for seasonal flu vaccinations
- regularly communicate with aged care consumers and families.
Access the COVID-19 Plan here.
- The Australian Guidelines for the Prevention and Control of Infection in Healthcare which set out the requirements for best practice infection control.
- the Department of Health’s Australian Health Sector Emergency Response Plan for Novel Coronavirus is useful for preparing an emergency plan, particularly with respect to pandemic infections
- the Communicable Diseases Network Australia (CDNA) National Guidelines for Public Health Units in the Series of National Guidelines (SoNGs)has information on the public health management of COVID-19
- the Department of Health has produced factsheets and resources for aged care staff, residents and familieswith advice on measures to limit transmission of the virus
- the 24-hour national Coronavirus health information line 1800 020 080 provides health and situation information on the COVID-19 outbreak.
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