South Australia’s older care workers, who are considered close contacts, will be able to return to nursing homes earlier, under changes that will be announced by the state government.
- More than 1,000 COVID cases and three deaths are linked to SA’s nursing home
- Changes will bring older caregivers back to work faster
- Labor calls for further assistance to the sector
Prime Minister Steven Marshall announced today that the changes were imminent, due to concerns about persistent staff shortages in the elderly care sector and the impact on residents and their families.
The changes, to be announced by state Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier, will pave the way for nursing homes to provide greater opportunities for relatives to visit their loved ones, he said.
There are 154 nursing homes that have had positive COVID cases, with 1,192 cases consisting of 572 employees, 615 residents and five visitors tested positive.
Currently, 102 nursing homes have active COVID outbreaks.
“This affects about 2 per cent of the staff and about 4 per cent of the residents of South Australia and this is at the lower end of the scale on a national basis,” Mr Marshall said.
He said SA government support for elderly care included personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and PCR testing.
There were 11 nursing homes currently receiving “significant” state support to deal with COVID outbreaks.
“When there is an outbreak… we are there. We are there to say, ‘How can we help?’,” Mr Marshall said.
In a nursing home, an outbreak is defined as “a single resident or two employees” testing positive, Mr Marshall said.
“Professor Nicola Spurrier will review the framework for returning to work for aged care centers in South Australia. It will be completed in the coming days,” he said.
“It will provide a nuanced environment to bring staff who can be close contacts back into the workforce. We need to do this in a careful and thoughtful way.”
Data released by the federal government on Friday showed that the highest number of cases had occurred at Estia Health’s home in Aberfoyle Park and ACH Group’s Milpara home in Rostrevor.
Three residents have died, all of whom lived in Bene Aged Care’s Italian village of St. Agnes.
Labor health spokesman Chris Picton called on the state government to provide additional support to nursing homes, amid reports that they were struggling to cope with the pressure to curb outbreaks.
“These data reveal the true extent of what is going on across aged care centers in southern Australia,” Mr Picton said.
“These statistics and these lists really highlight how poorly prepared our system has been since before the borders were opened.”
PPE shortages hit the sector
Sir. Picton said providers had reported that there were not enough PPE or rapid antigen tests available and that booster doses were not rolled out to residents quickly enough.
“There has simply been no PPE, the rapid tests or the booster doses available to ensure that these residents are protected,” Mr Picton said.
“We really need a quick action now to ensure that all elderly care residents get their booster doses as quickly as possible and that the state government works with these providers to ensure they get the quick tests they need. and the PPE they need to help deal with this escalating burden across geriatric care. “
As of Friday, 433,251 vaccine doses had been delivered to elderly carers in Australia.
Elderly Care Executive Director Jane Pickering estimates that around half of South Australia’s 30,000 elderly care residents are currently subject to full or partial blocking of their homes.
She said nursing homes had difficulty obtaining certain sizes of N95 masks as well as protective gowns for staff, and there were not enough quick antigen tests available for staff and visitors.
“Many of the elderly care have alternative options for visits, including FaceTime and WhatsApp, but not everyone does it because they are quite tied up in managing the outbreaks in their homes, so they need resources to help deal with these alternative types of visiting strategies, “Ms Pickering told ABC Radio Adelaide.
“At Elderly Care, we know that half of our positive residents have come from visitors and half have come from staff.”
She said senior care planning and resource management could have been done better to avoid the current crisis facing the sector.
St Basil’s Home CEO Michelle Church said greater access to rapid antigen testing would be a “game-changer” for elderly care.
Ian Yates, Executive Director of the Council on the Aging (COTA), said he hoped a nationally consistent approach to isolating close contacts in geriatric care could be achieved.
He said COTA supported changes to allow workers to return to nursing homes more quickly, along with improved access to rapid antigen testing for staff and visitors.
“It’s better to have staff that residents know work, if possible, than to bring in people who do not know them and they do not know,” Mr Yates said.
“Of course, there is also a lot of competition for people throughout the care sector, and staff shortages are a significant problem.”
A spokesman for the federal Secretary of Health and the Elderly, Greg Hunt, said the government had delivered more than 5.6 million rapid antigen tests to elderly care centers with a further 3 million to be delivered this week.
He said all geriatric care institutions would have their booster vaccinations this month.
“It is encouraging that despite the increase in cases, there has not been a significant increase in disease or loss of human life, with most facilities indicating that the cases have been relatively mild.”
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