With 500 Covid-19 cases in aged care facilities in Victoria as of 29th June, 2020 the government has stepped up support to aged care providers to help cope with the crisis. The Australian Medical Assistance Team will be helping Defence Force personnel and health workers. This Team is usually sent into disaster zones to work on humanitarian aid overseas.
Five AUSMAT senior expert nurse leaders are also being deployed to Victoria from other states, and two Victorian-based specialist logisticians will be deployed in support of the nurse deployment and Aged Care Response Centre.
A Federal Department of Health spokesperson said more than 450 temporary workforce surge staff have been deployed to aged care providers experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak in Victoria to date.
Non-essential surgery will be suspended in public and private hospitals in Melbourne and Mitchell Shire to free up hospital beds for residents in aged care facilities requiring a transfer and to enable nurses to help care for aged care residents.
New Leave Entitlement for Aged Care Workers
Staff working in residential aged care under the Aged Care Award, the Nurses Award and the Health Professionals Award will be entitled to paid pandemic leave as of today (29th June, 2020), following a ruling by the Fair Work Commission. The Fair Work Commission said pandemic leave will support the needs of low-paid workers who are exposed to elevated levels of risk during COVID-19.
Staff will be entitled to two weeks’ paid pandemic leave if they are required to self isolate due to being a close contact of a confirmed case, or if they are showing symptoms of COVID-19. The entitlement extends to casual employees who are employed on a “regular and systemic” basis.
However, this pandemic leave does not cover workers who test positive to COVID-19 during their self-isolation. They will instead be entitled to workers compensation leave.
This will mainly affect workers employed by the smaller aged care providers as they tend to have a higher percentage of workers on awards, whereas the larger aged care providers more often employ staff on enterprise agreements. Those staff will not be entitled to the pandemic leave payments.
Communicating With Loved Ones in Aged Care
With the increased number of cases in aged care facilities and higher level of community transmission, most aged care homes are only providing family visits under exceptional circumstances across all Victorian residences. Most homes will allow compassionate exceptions for residents who are palliating, or where regular care is provided by a visitor and the absence of this would have adverse effect on the resident’s wellbeing.
To keep residents connected to their loved ones homes are facilitating phone calls and video calls. Read more about technologies in Aged Care here.
Unfortunately, these technologies don’t work for some residents, such as my friend Don. I placed Don into care 5 years ago and he is suffering more than most in care, as he has been deaf since birth and has no relatives. He is unable to take advantage of video chats with friends like me, he cannot converse with other residents and does not leave his room, so he has been isolated for several months. He is now having even more difficulty because he cannot see staff members’ mouths as they are all wearing face masks.
Pictured an aged care resident uses a communication device designed specifically for elderly people.
I am hoping that the extra support and focus now being given to help aged care providers manage this crisis will see a dramatic drop in cases within aged care facilities.
Jillian Slade is an Aged Care Placement Consultant.