Uniting NSW.ACT’s Tracey Burton: aged care sector needs access to National Medical Stockpile

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Joining NSW and the ACT’s largest Not For Profit aged care provider as Executive Director in 2018 after 30 years in the health and community services sector – including as the Executive Director Eastern Hospitals for St John of God Health Care and the CEO of St George Private Hospital – Tracey (pictured above) leads 73 homes in 58 locations.

We asked Tracey about some of the challenges that Uniting is facing in the current situation.

Like many providers, they have made the difficult decision to close their home to visitors, other than in exceptional circumstances.

“We feel this is necessary to continue to keep people safe,” she said. “We’re reviewing this decision every two weeks, including following government directives.”

However, the Executive Director is concerned residents will not be prioritised for treatment in the coming months.

“The aged care sector needs assurances that primary health care workers, such as GPs, will continue to support people in residential care. We’ve seen alarming cases in Italy and Spain, where the eldest were left without treatment to allow younger people to live. People need to continue to be prioritised according to need, not age or location.”

She also pointed to the increasing pressure on providers to ‘fill the gap’ created by visitor restrictions.

“We need to gauge the appropriate balance of quality and quantity of care, with resident wellbeing in mind,” she said.

Similarly, to other providers, they are being challenged by the need to source PPE and are creating regional hubs where they can distribute emergency supplies as needed and working with other providers to support each other in cases where they need to.

“But the sector also needs access to the National Medical Stockpile,” she stressed. “While we’re doing all we can to source protective clothing for workers, it is also getting more difficult and more expensive.”

The extra costs of recruiting staff, continuing lockdowns and sourcing PPE will all chip away at increasingly thin margins, Tracey says.

“For me, this is starkly demonstrated by the $180 in government funding spent each day, on average, for our oldest Australians in aged care. Compare this with the $1,500 per day spent for patients in hospital.”

Tracey says their size and scale means they will be able to allocate resources across their services – including to those that are not commercially viable – but the pandemic will test their strength and resilience as it will other providers.

“We’d like to acknowledge the significant financial package that has been announced by the Government to support the community through this pandemic,” she said. “Despite this boost, Australia still needs further support for aged care given the underlying challenges.”

The CEO also credited their thousands of staff for their efforts during a very difficult time. “They are the unsung heroes,” she added.

No arguments here.

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