2 February 2022
A Situation Report on the aged care sector’s fight to keep older Australians safe during the pandemic prepared by the Australian Aged Care Collaboration (AACC) paints a grim picture of the stresses faced by aged care providers and their staff during the Omicron surge.
Aged care providers in residential and home and community care are doing all they can to maintain care and support for their residents and clients while keeping them safe from infection in the face of severe staff shortages and a lack of crucial resources like PPE and RATs.
There is only so much aged care providers can do as they balance daily the need to maintain infection control measures while continuing to provide essential services, and manage the effects that isolation has on the wellbeing of people in care.
Support from governments, both federal and state, is critical to ensuring aged care providers are able to protect and provide care to vulnerable older Australians.
But the lack of key resources, particularly since early December has placed enormous additional strain on the sector with an average of a quarter of shifts in aged care left unfilled.
Tragically, in January this year – a single month – there have been 499 aged care residents die due to COVID-19 (figure from Dept of Health as at 31 January 2022). This is more than the total number of aged care residents that sadly passed away in 2021.
As detail emerges of the recently announced retention payments for aged care staff it is extremely disappointing to learn that many staff will be excluded from receiving the payments. It remains to be seen how this measure will address the exodus of staff now being experienced by the sector.
For example, staff working in the Commonwealth Home Support Program (CHSP) will miss out altogether, as will Home Care and Residential Aged Care workers in maintenance, reception and lifestyle program roles. This makes it all the more difficult because in Home Care and Residential Care some staff will receive the payment while their colleagues will not – despite them all facing similar risks and work challenges.
The AACC’s Aged Care Situation Report sets out the challenges facing the sector as it stands now and what it needs from government in order to meet those challenges and maintain services and protect vulnerable older Australians.
The bottom line is that people working on the frontline of caring for older Australians need to be properly resourced and enabled to provide the best and safest care.
Some of the key supports the sector urgently needs include:
• Appropriate payments for aged care workers that reflect their additional effort and risks as they do all they can to keep residents and clients safe from COVID19
• Better surge workforce arrangements to ensure quality and services are maintained in the current and future COVID19 waves
• Funding to cover the increased costs providers are incurring in implementing measures to protect residents, clients and staff
• Reliable supplies and more efficient distribution of RATs and PPE
• Better data on infections and vaccinations so risks can be better managed.