“It’s not a marathon – take a break”: Tracey Burton’s staff advice post COVID

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Uniting CEO, Tracey Burton, has over 6,000 aged care staff under her wing across 72 aged care homes and home care services across NSW and the ACT. We asked her the lessons learned in the COVID months.

Her first comment: “Uniting is not a collection of buildings but actually a collection of people who bring their hearts, hands and mind to us. We are conscious that they all have loved ones”.

Take a break

Lesson number one is to encourage people to take a break. COVID is not a marathon where you know where the finish line is. It is in fact the new normal. Tracey wants people to take time for themselves, like a four-day long weekend, where they ‘can find joy now’, rather than waiting for the pandemic to end.

The idea is not to exhaust people.

Protect staff from the bonus rift

Her second lesson is to not allow the Government’s Retention Bonus, only available to certain front-line staff, cause a rift in the team. Draw all the staff into the discussion.

An example of bonuses that Uniting makes to deliver recognition, is providing additional benefits, such as giving staff an extra day’s leave if they are not eligible for the Government bonus

Touch everyone

To ensure all staff do get recognition, Uniting recently had all head office staff send five individual emails to frontline staff to say ‘thank you’. All 6,000 aged care workers received an email of thanks, including maintenance staff and chaplains.

Reassure with COVID Flying Squad

Uniting called out for team members to build a COVID Flying Squad, and recruited 150 volunteer staff who have now been trained and will go anywhere there is an outbreak. It gives staff reassurance that Uniting has their back and is ahead of the game.

“We are practicing, and staging mock drills and testing protocols; we have learnt a lot and refining”.

Toolbox Talks and maintaining a consciousness

The group is staging toolbox talks with staff on what would happen with an outbreak, making sure people understand procedures, but also to reassure there is a process.

Uniting still requires visitors to book to make a visit to an aged care home, to maintain a consciousness amongst staff and families.

Extra training

Staff are receiving extra hours of training, especially in infection control.

Employer Assistance Program

Uniting had already engaged an outside, independent and confidential service for staff to support them ‘whatever is happening in their lives’. They experienced a slight uplift in staff utilisation in April and again in June. All up about 350 people use it each year.

Understanding aged care

Tracey is well known for strongly advocating that residents who are diagnosed with COVID should be transferred to specialist attention in hospital and to isolate them away from other residents.

“We are their homes, we are not a hospital”, she says.

She is disappointed the Federal Government did not ‘sit down and work together’ with the sector at the beginning of COVID. Operators understand what the service of aged care is.

Tracey suggests it would be useful for government officials to spend time with both Not For Profit and Private operators, in an aged care home to orientate them to the sector and build an understanding of the residents, the staffing functions and the ecosystem.

Her lessons and this approach make a lot of sense.