The Morrison Government is continuing to support residential aged care providers in Greater Sydney and across New South Wales with emergency preparedness and response activities and introducing more stringent reporting requirements to protect senior Australians.
Provisions to bolster residential aged care facilities amid the current COVID-19 outbreak include access to a second round of COVID-19 Aged Care Support Program grants and reimbursement for eligible expenses.
The program supports costs for additional or replacement staff, personal protective equipment, onsite testing, cleaning and infection control, waste management, and travel and accommodation.
Minister for Health and Aged Care, Greg Hunt, said the Government is supporting any provider affected by the outbreak to access surge workforce staff.
“The Government has supported SummitCare Baulkham Hills with more than 130 staff since the current outbreak began, including registered nurses, assistants in nursing, administrative, cleaning and kitchen staff,” Minister Hunt said.
“The Government has also provided additional personal protective equipment including around 34,000 P2/N95 masks, 6,000 surgical masks, gowns, goggles and face shields, 330,000 gloves and
70 litres of hand sanitiser.”
A two-week trial of rapid antigen testing is underway for staff at a large facility in South-West Sydney, showcasing the commitment to early identification of COVID-19 and action to minimise the risk of transmission from staff to residents.
This trial will be evaluated and the findings will be shared with Government to inform future directions on the use of these tests in surveillance and infection prevention and control.
Arrangements to limit aged care workers to working at a single facility remain in place across Greater Sydney, the Blue Mountains, Central Coast, Wollongong and Shellharbour until at least 14 August 2021.
To ensure workers are not disadvantaged, the Australian Government is continuing to support providers through the Support for Aged Care Workers in COVID-19 (SACWIC) Grant.
In light of the emerging situation in Melbourne, these single site workforce arrangements have been reintroduced and will remain in place in Greater Melbourne, Moorabool Shire, City of Greater Geelong, Surf Coast Shire and Borough of Queenscliff until at least 30 July 2021.
Providers in these areas will also have access to funding through the SACWIC Grant to cover additional costs incurred during this period. The SACWIC Grant remains open for applications until 31 December 2021.
COVID-19 vaccination reporting requirements for aged care providers are also being strengthened to provide greater health security for seniors receiving residential and in-home care.
Residential aged care providers nationally will be required to report on the COVID-19 vaccination status of residents in their care from 27 July 2021, in addition to reporting workforce vaccinations.
“It is important for all residential aged care facilities to report weekly on any changes to the COVID-19 vaccination status of residents, including new entrants, to ensure ongoing vaccine access can be supported for this most vulnerable group of Australians,” Minister Hunt said.
Also from 27 July, in-home aged care providers must report weekly on the COVID-19 vaccination status of their workforce, including contractors and volunteers.
This includes providers of Home Care Packages and Short-Term Restorative Care services in an in-home or community setting.
“Data reported by in-home aged care providers on the COVID-19 vaccination status of their workforce will further help us understand the risk each service faces in the event of an outbreak and how we can best support those providers, workers and the people they care for.”
De-identified data will be reported on the total number of residents and/or workers by service and, of those, the number who have received a single dose or all required doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
This will help governments and aged care providers support public health measures on COVID-19 and inform any adjustments needed to support workers’ access to vaccination.
Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services, Richard Colbeck, said aged care providers had quickly embraced the new workforce reporting requirements.
“As at 14 July, 98 per cent of residential aged care providers have reported on the COVID-19 vaccination status of their workforce. Of the total reported workforce of 276,159 to date, 115,566 workers or 42 per cent have received a COVID-19 vaccination,” Minister Colbeck said.
“Some 669 in-home aged care providers are already voluntarily reporting their workforce’s COVID-19 vaccination status through My Aged Care, ahead of it becoming mandatory.”
It is currently voluntary for aged care workers to get a COVID-19 vaccination and to notify their main employer if they have been vaccinated.
A first dose will be required as a condition of employment by 17 September.
Providers who have not reported on COVID-19 vaccination will be followed up by the Department initially, and ongoing failure to report will be referred to Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission.
In response to the current outbreak in New South Wales, roving Commonwealth vaccination clinics are returning to 236 aged care facilities in 18 Local Government Areas.
Similarly, the Commonwealth is deploying roving clinics to 145 residential aged care facilities in Tier 1 locations in Victoria, as defined by Victorian health authorities last month.
In addition to strengthening protection for residents and supporting aged care providers and workers, the Australian Government continues to support all senior Australians receiving Commonwealth-funded supports, including through wellbeing checks, grief and trauma counselling, support for families, and advocacy services through the Older Persons Advocacy Network (OPAN).
A dedicated, free call support line (1800 171 866) continues to operate, supporting the mental health of senior Australians and their families impacted by COVID-19.
Established in conjunction with the Council on the Ageing Australia, National Seniors Australia, OPAN and Dementia Australia, the phone line is staffed with expert advisers who can listen and offer practical help and advice.