Aged care and the great reset


By Sean Rooney, CEO, LASA
Monday, 28 February, 2022


Aged care and the great reset

The aged-care sector has begun to emerge from the challenges encountered over the summer from the COVID-19 Omicron wave.

The impact on the sector has been profound and tragic, with more than 700 deaths in residential aged care since 1 January 2022, more than double the number for all of 2021.

The wild spread of infection in the wider community led to a significant reduction of the aged-care workforce as staff became infected or were forced to isolate due to being a close contact. This resulted in prolonged bouts of isolation for aged-care residents and a disruption of services to home-care clients, all signs that providers and their staff were under severe pressure just to keep delivering essential services every day.

During the second half of December and for most of January, Omicron infections and close contacts among the aged-care workforce meant that when local surge workforce capacity was exhausted, many providers were forced to leave shifts unfilled on a regular basis. This meant those staff remaining shouldered the workload, doing double and sometimes triple shifts to care for and protect older Australians.

On top of the staff shortage, providers in both residential and home care were seriously hampered in their daily routines by the lack of adequate PPE and RAT supplies, which continued until nearly the end of January.

It is now a year since the release of the final report by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, and the structural deficiencies in aged care identified by the Royal Commission have been vastly magnified by the pandemic, particularly over the summer.

Our own Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer noted in early February concerns in the Northern Hemisphere of the potential for further COVID variants and the potential for a new wave of infection combined with the flu. The message is that there could be more waves of infection ahead of us. This means we must be learning from the past and preparing for the future. And we must bring a sense of urgency to this task if we are to avoid the challenges experienced and the devastating outcomes realised during the Omicron wave.

Leading Age Services Australia (LASA) and other industry representative bodies through the Australian Aged Care Collaboration (AACC) and aged-care sector unions have been advocating for urgent action by government to prepare for more outbreaks singling out three key areas:

  • Funding for an immediate wage rise for the aged-care workforce as recommended by the Royal Commission and a commitment to fund the outcome of the Fair Work Commission work value case.
  • Increase subsidies paid to providers so they can pay for higher costs incurred for COVID infection prevention and protection.
  • Build resilience by agreeing to set up the proposed National Aged Care Covid Coordination Centre (NAT-CCC) in partnership with states and territories to ensure aged-care services are effectively resourced, enabled and supported to deal with future waves.
     

The NAT-CCC would resource and coordinate COVID prevention and preparation, response and recovery for aged-care services across Australia. The centre would have ‘nodes’ or sites in each state and territory connecting with existing local structures.

In the meantime, providers will continue to face workforce challenges with vacant shifts and a lack of available agency staff to fill the gaps. We need to ensure that they are properly resourced to effectively care for and protect older Australians and we look to government to step up and provide that support.

The rollout in February of teams of Australian Defence Force personnel has been welcome as a way of addressing immediate critical staff and skills shortages, but it is not a long-term solution.

The new interim visitation guidelines have also eased the way for providers and families to support older people in residential care who have missed visits from loved ones.

The aged-care sector will now be seeking a ‘reset’ of the proposed aged-care reforms resulting from the Royal Commission in the light of the immediate priorities for the sector during the pandemic.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/VectorMine

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