Activating work zones within facilities, a key decision-making group and a program to reduce social isolation are among strategies implemented to manage the impact of COVID-19, residential providers have told the royal commission.

The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety called for submissions in April on the impact of COVID-19 on the aged care sector.

In its submission multi-state  provider Bolton Clarke said it implemented a range of enhanced resident protection including work zones within facilities  to limit the movement of staff across the facility.

“This meant that resident activities were delivered within that zone rather than in large communal rooms or externally,” Bolton Clarke’s submission said.

Bolton Clarke also developed an aged care assistant role in anticipation of an acute need for additional staff.

“We leveraged the customer service skills of people in industries impacted by COVID-19, such as travel and hospitality, and provided training enabling the aged care assistants to provide non-intimate personal and social care and general assistance in aged care,” Bolton Clarke said.

Residential care leaders and the care innovation and quality team developed and regularly reviewed the enhanced resident protection measures, which in line with government guidelines, Bolton Clarke said.

The provider also implemented single organisation working arrangements for staff and developed communication plans.

“Significant aspects of the enhanced resident protection measures have now transitioned into ‘the new business as usual’ processes to sustain the safety and wellbeing of our residents and clients,” the submission said.

Bolton Clarke also called for more financial support to ensure some elements of care are not hindered.

“Additional government funding provided some assistance for organisations. We were fortunate to be able to act first and review the funding later, however our actions have come at a cost to the organisation and meant deferring other activities.

“Funding for aged care should be enough to ensure all organisations have the capability to respond and sustain their response throughout the course of the pandemic,” Bolton Clarke said.

Decision-makers key

NSW and ACT provider RSL LifeCare told the royal commission its key decision-making group has been effective during the pandemic.

“Early activation of a dedicated multi-disciplinary crisis management team consisting of senior leadership empowered to make rapid decisions ensured a strategic, proactive and consistent response across all aspects of the organisation,” RSL LifeCare said in its submission.

The team met daily in March to monitor and address the intense rate of change, RSL LifeCare said.

The group “enabled RSL LifeCare to conduct early assessment of the risks arising from the pandemic and to pre-plan strategies to manage these risks.”

RSL LifeCare said it continuously monitored an extensive range of information sources to remain up to date and used its volunteer network to remotely help address isolation.

The provider said preparation had been an important aspect of its planning and ability to respond quickly and decisively if an emergency arose.

“A COVID-19 Operational Response Team procedure was formulated to set the framework for managing any COVID-19 outbreak in care homes,” it said.

This procedure can also be used in the future for other emergencies and can be updated and reassessed over time, RSL LifeCare said.

Program promotes social connection

Fellow NSW and ACT aged care provider Uniting created the Staying Connected and Engaged program to support residents’ emotional wellbeing and staying in touch with loved ones during the pandemic.

The program, which provided additional hours of support dedicated to resident and family connection, included:

  • using existing Wi-Fi for residents to access personal devices
  • phone and video calls to families
  • socially distanced bingo
  • live streaming of zoos, cultural institutions, church services and exercises programs
  • activity packs
  • armchair travel.

Uniting NSW ACT said arrangements are reviewed fortnightly. It also recommenced some services in June including scenic bus trips for three-to-five residents according to physical distancing guidelines and hairdressing, beauty and chapel services.

It said the pandemic reinforced the value of regular contact and support in aged care communities.

“This experience has shown the value of online connectivity as a way to reduce isolation for many of our more lonely or vulnerable citizens, while also pointing out the need to ensure that they are not left behind with access to these tools and the skills to use them,” Uniting NSW ACT’s submission said.

View the full submissions here:

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