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Change is needed: A warning from COVID’s ground zero in aged care.
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27 January 2022
Dear Prime Minister,
Change is needed: A warning from COVID’s ground zero in aged care
I write to you because we are fast approaching the two-year anniversary since the first case of COVID-19 was recorded in the aged care sector and, heartbreakingly, it feels as if we are no closer to managing this crisis.
As a not-for-profit provider, BaptistCare exists to serve our community and protect the vulnerable older people in our care. Our teams have been valiantly fighting the pandemic on multiple fronts for two years, but we are exhausted, and we are fast losing ground. If COVID-19 is in our community, it is in our aged care system. At this moment, hundreds of aged care homes and thousands of residents are locked down due to exposures and outbreaks.
This means that, again, our residents have been isolated in their rooms or restricted to smaller areas of the home for weeks on end without family, without the social interaction and physical activity so essential to their wellbeing. It means our staff have cancelled holiday plans for yet another year and are working long hours, in full PPE, with the leanest of teams and carrying all the heightened emotional and practical pressures that come with that.
In a press conference you suggested the solution was to simply “push through” and “manage the demands in aged care facilities as best we can”.
On this point we cannot stay silent. How long can we rely on the resilience and fortitude of the exceptional people working on the frontlines of aged care without proper process, resources and recognition?
The simple truth is that we cannot maintain the standard of care our community expects if the situation continues and all we do is “push through”.
New battle lines must be drawn, or Australian aged care risks defeat in the battle against COVID. There are two fundamental things that need to change.
Firstly, we need a new playbook to manage the crisis - traditional infection control is no longer a viable strategy.
The government and regulators need to introduce new guidance and settings to support living with COVID.
Endlessly isolating residents in their rooms and preventing visits from friends and family is not sustainable. But under the current health advice, this is what we must do. In one situation, residents have been forced to keep to their rooms for over 21 days.
Aged care residents who are vaccinated deserve the dignity of choice around their mobility – just like we have in the broader community. And family members are a critical partner in our care model – we cannot simply remove them from the equation without serious consequences.
Secondly, frontline aged care workers must receive fair and competitive compensation for the critical work they do.
One of the biggest challenges we face today was a problem long before the pandemic arrived on Australian shores and it will continue to be a problem unless it is addressed.
The sector is critically underfunded, the workforce is significantly underpaid for the value of their work and staff shortages have only been accelerated by the Omicron variant. We are exploring every avenue to help shore up our teams and we are so incredibly grateful to the aged care workers who continue to show up every day, and are working incredibly long hours, exhausted, to care for others.
However, with the ongoing pressure of the pandemic and without increasing award wages and improving the remuneration of aged care workers, we will continue to lose valuable people and experience.
We can hardly expect workers to stay in aged care when their qualifications and experience will earn them more money in hospitals or in disability care.
I write to you today because we cannot keep “pushing through”. We need change from the top and we need support from our communities to ensure Australia’s vulnerable and elderly receive the standard of care and services they deserve and expect.
We are all getting older and we should be able to trust that there is a system that allows us to age in comfort and with dignity, wherever we live and whatever the challenges of the day.
We ask that, through your leadership of our nation, you ensure the aged care sector has the appropriate resources to push through this wave, and beyond. We also ask that your government and health experts ensure that plans and guidance for managing the pandemic in the aged care setting remain fit for purpose as the situation evolves.
The Aged Care Royal Commission called out fundamental systemic flaws which have not been addressed, but in fact have been allowed to grow and fester in this pandemic.
Please consider the strain the system is under and the continued contribution of those hard-working individuals on the frontline.
We can only “push through” for so long.
Chief Executive Officer