This is the CEO and COO of Southern Cross Care (NSW & ACT) working on the floor

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In areas worst hit by COVID-19, 30% of aged care staff are absent, lockdowns of aged care homes are taking place daily and there is a shortage of rapid antigen test kits and personal protection equipment in many operations.

Southern Cross Care (SCC) CEO Helen Emmerson and COO Gaynor Squillacioti have been on site in homes to support and lead their teams.

“Our management and frontline teams are working around the clock to prioritise the safety of our residents, home care clients and staff,” said Helen.

“Alongside senior members of my team, we have been providing support on the ground as well as critical feedback to all levels of government responsible for and involved in outbreak management.

“It remains immensely challenging. I am beyond proud of the way the SCC team stepped up again and again. Our residents and clients inspire us with their positivity, resilience, and faith in our team. They are our sole purpose and motivation – we will always do everything possible to support them.”

Sean Rooney, CEO of Leading Age Services Australia, said the two main issues facing operators are:

  • Operational issues – coping with immediate issues relating to the pandemic of workforce supply, no surge workforce, RAT shortage, PPE shortage, booster rollout, waste management, additional costs, additional reporting etc; and,
  • Structural reform – industry reform in all areas is happening in the context of a time of operational crisis, with many providers on their knees financially, and with insufficient consultation and collaboration

“There are the immediate issues of the pandemic, the most urgent and critical of which are regarding workforce – nothing can be delivered without workforce and the recent weeks with the impact of high rates of community transmission have had a devastating impact on individuals and services,” said Sean.

He said 29% of shifts are unable to be filled and staff are working overtime to try and fill these gaps at double and triple rates. Emergency staff management plans have been developed and implemented.

This is the current situation for a residential aged care provider with 10 homes:

“For all workers the pressure is now significant with no sign of it easing, with changes occurring almost daily. We have distributed 52 bulletins to staff and families in the 19 days of 2022 already! For management, it is and has been seven days a week for 12-plus months. For the team in the homes, it has been extra shifts, long hours and PPE, for residents and families the isolation and separation continues as outbreaks are experienced. The team is stepping in to fill the gaps but that can’t go on indefinitely – they are experiencing fatigue, and it is also thankless.”

St Basil’s, with three homes in South Australia, said the first staff member tested positive on 29 December.

“We have now had staff test positive at all three sites. The good news so far is that we have managed to keep our residents COVID-19 free, having been ahead of directions in terms of PPE. Our current challenges can be summarised as:

  • Workforce – competing with Health sector for clinical staff,
  • PPE shortages,
  • Delay in RAT deliveries,
  • Financial issues – we were already struggling and while there is grant funding available for COVID-19 related costs, it has to be paid up front and there is no guarantee it will be covered; and,
  • Visitor access and screening.”

A residential care provider from Victoria said it is costing approximately $80,000 per month due to the limited supply from the Federal Government, an extra $40,000 per month on PPE compared to the average from July to October. One outbreak lasting 18 days cost $133,000 in clinical waste alone, said the provider.

Sean said access to PPE and Rapid Antigen Tests for screening and preventative measures has been difficult.

“The national impact on supply chains has put a particular strain on aged care which is dependent on reliable supply of PPE and rapid antigen tests if we are to prevent and protect services from the impact of COVID. We are holding Government to account on commitments made to the sector with respect to PPE and RAT supplies, including those to home care providers.

“COVID-19 will likely be with us for years but foreseeable issues are not being adequately planned for (e.g. surge workforce, RAT and PPE demands, waste disposal) and there is a tendency to try and reinvent the wheel and have to re-prosecute cases for support (e.g. worker retention payments, funds to cover costs for infection prevention). States and Territories are implementing directions inconsistently and at different times. We need instead to work on a planned response model that gets rolled out and continually improved as we deal with ongoing waves of infection,” he said.