IRT’s experience of the bushfire crisis: RACs confronting a 12-day emergency

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IRT CEO Patrick Reid (pictured below) tells us while they have been dealing with the South Coast bushfires for a few months, the situation reached a critical point for their seven aged care home and seven villages in the area on New Years’ Eve.

Their critical incident management team worked around the clock for 12 days as the fires came within a kilometer of all seven sites and one village unit in Batemans Bay catching fire, though it was quickly extinguished.

48 residents had to be evacuated from their Dalmeny aged care centre and its co-located village to its Moruya facility and Estia’s Dalmeny home.

This was a major undertaking – nine of the residents were non-ambulatory and the nearby town of Narooma only had two ambulances (which were also in demand elsewhere – think of home care clients).

Patrick says many heroes emerged with staff at head office returning early from leave, people from the community coming in to lend a hand and staff from other organisations volunteering to care for residents.

“Some staff went 48 hours without sleep,” he said. “One woman was in the kitchen at Moruya cooking double the amount for people and then walking with dementia residents to keep them calm.

Their pharmacists also stepped up to ensure residents were provided with their medication, with their Malua Bay pharmacist still seeing clients despite losing his home in the fires.

There were other challenges too. The destruction of infrastructure meant power was often out – IRT relied on the generators at their sites to supply power.

Telephone lines also failed as communication towers burnt down, while ensuring sites had enough supplies of pureed and texture modified food was a critical issue.

The threat is not over either. Patrick says some of the fires that have affected their sites are still on ‘watch and act’ and they are also caring for people from the community.

There is also the emotional fallout. IRT conducted 394 welfare checks the first day after the fires – some of their staff have lost homes or relatives and will need ongoing support.

This week, Patrick met with Minister Colbeck and the Department of Health to share the lessons learned.