More than 75% of all 910 deaths from COVID-19 in Australia have been at aged care facilities. The abject horror of what happened at St Basil’s Home for the Aged in Melbourne and Newmarch House in Sydney can never be forgotten.
The COVID-19 outbreak at Newmarch House happened more than a year ago. Yet today we still do not have every aged care worker and home care worker vaccinated and yet the Delta variant has forced Queensland, Western Australia, NSW and the Northern Territory into lockdown.
It is not the time to lay blame. Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s National Cabinet on Monday mandated that at least the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine be administered by mid-September for the entire residential aged care workforce. A COVID-19 vaccination will be a condition of employment caring for society’s most vulnerable people.
Residential aged care workers will be helped to have the vaccine through an $11 million program to enable them to attend off-site vaccination centres and GPs. Under the grant, Residential Aged Care Facilities (RACFs) will be paid for the following three categories of eligible expenditure:
- Casual staff going off-site for vaccination – a flat fee of $80 payable per staff member, per dose;
- Paid leave for casual staff who become unwell after vaccination and do not have other leave entitlements – one day’s paid leave (at a rate of $185) for up to a quarter of the provider’s total number of casual staff; and
- Facilitation of off-site vaccination for employees – up to $500 per site in flexible vaccination facilitation costs per site, which may be used for activities like: transport services, arranging groups of staff to be vaccinated and or any other reasonable expenses that incentivise staff to get vaccinated.
The United Workers Union, which represents about 10,000 aged care workers, backs mandatory vaccination. Its Director Carolyn Smith said some workers will still refuse.
“Some people may leave because there’s lots of misinformation (about vaccines) out in the community,” she said.
Pat Sparrow, Aged and Community Services Australia CEO, admits there is a risk that some workers will leave the aged care sector. She supports mandatory vaccinations.
“The most important thing now is that we have to make it easy for workers to be vaccinated.”
Nearly all aged care residents have had at least one vaccination dose. However, RSL LifeCare CEO Graham Millett said 10% of its 2,600 residential aged care workers were fully vaccinated, with a further 10% having had their first job.
It’s one thing not to protect yourself against a virus that has killed 3.95 million people worldwide but to put at risk the most vulnerable in society is inexcusable. For these individuals, it is time to get out of the aged care industry.