The Omicron bomb goes off for village and care operators — RFBI spending $10,000 a day on RATs; staff relatives working at Warrigal

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Frank Price, CEO of the Royal Freemasons’ Benevolent Institution (RFBI), tells us the provider is being forced to spend $10,000 a day on Rapid Antigen Testing (RAT) to keep residents and staff safe from COVID-19.

“We are bleeding cash profusely,” said Frank. “I have put in an order for $250,000 of RAT and that lasts four weeks. What the Federal Government supplies just supplements that.” The RAT order is in addition to over $1.5 million spent on additional Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for staff.

Frank decided to buy a huge stockpile of RAT for RFBI’s 20 retirement villages and 22 residential aged care homes after it was announced unvaccinated visitors would be allowed into aged care homes on 15 December.

“It was 11pm on Christmas Eve that I was told there had been an outbreak of COVID at a facility. Within days there had been eight outbreaks at eight different locations. Through the efforts of everyone we have not had any more outbreaks,” he said.

“Absolutely no-one can enter an RFBI location without taking a RAT first. Any residents taken outside of the facility by relatives are also strictly monitored. And cannot return without a negative test.”

Warrigal CEO Mark Sewell (pictured right) is being forced to deploy head office staff on the frontline and recruiting and training relatives to work inside their facilities. The sector is battling against the highly transmissible variant Omicron.

“Staff are under enormous pressure. It’s like starting a boxing match immediately after running a marathon. They have been waiting a long time for a bomb to go off, and now it has,” said Mark, who is at the helm of retirement living and aged care services in the Illawarra, Southern Highlands, Queanbeyan and Canberra regions.

Mark said a deferral of the ‘opening up the economy’ till after the festive season and after sufficient stocks of PPE and RAT tests were available and every vulnerable Australian and essential service frontline worker was triple vaccinated, would have been much better and safer.

Brisbane-based retirement operator Reside Communities proactively planned for the opening of Queensland borders and the Omicron variant of COVID-19, anticipating likely impacts in early December 2021 and throughout the festive season.

From the outset, Chief Operating Officer Craig Syphers’ prime focus was on the health and wellbeing of residents and staff.  The first need was to ensure adequate “at village” staffing, particularly when village staff began to be impacted by COVID-19 testing and/or close contact isolation between Christmas and New Year.

Essential planning and implementation throughout this period and continuing in January 2022, said Craig (pictured right), includes:

  • Daily welfare checks with all residents in Reside Communities’ villages;
  • Strict guidelines and enforcement on safe visits of contractors and relatives;
  • Securing RAT kits for essential staff;
  • Separating staff into discrete teams – A and B to ensure safety, service and business continuity; &
  • These teams operating different shifts in each village.

Craig and the Reside Senior Executive Group are also the back-up team (Team C) should the need arise within the villages.

“Residents and their families were very appreciative of our focus on their health and safety,” said Craig.