Protecting our vulnerable aged care residents

Caption: Coleraine aged care residents Roger and Jean Buckley with WDHS Customer Service Officer Dean Molver

With many Victorian aged care providers struggling to manage COVID-19 outbreaks in residential care settings, Western District Health Service (WDHS) understands the significant responsibility that comes with protecting and caring for older people in our region.

Chief Executive, Rohan Fitzgerald says WDHS is doing all it can to prepare for an outbreak, but the recent spike in cases in aged care settings in Melbourne, highlights the vulnerability of the sector and shows how quickly the virus can take hold, to devastating effect.

“Sadly, what we’ve seen in Melbourne in recent days is not dissimilar to what has happened globally. Since the pandemic began, we’ve all been shocked by the statistics filtering out of countries like the UK and US, where mortality rates in care settings are estimated to be one third of all COVID-19 deaths. It’s distressing that we are now seeing this play out for many families in Victoria too”.

He says staff at WDHS are going to great lengths to ensure the safety and wellbeing of aged care residents and he can’t thank them enough for their efforts and dedication.

“I personally want to acknowledge our aged care team, from the nursing staff, to the cleaners and administration staff. They are all working tirelessly to adapt and implement change, often on a daily basis to protect residents, support their wellbeing and ensure they remain connected to family and loved ones.

I know from first-hand experience, they see their work as much more than a job, it’s a way of life and a vocation. They love the residents and are going to great lengths to make sure they are kept safe. 

The WDHS aged care team has done a power of work to prepare for COVID-19, providing new visiting options and implementing stringent screening and infection control practices and guidelines to reduce exposure at each campus.

In many ways the strategies we introduced were more conservative than our peers in the sector. We made a decision early in the pandemic to try and get ahead of the virus. We adapted our business model to be more customer focused and put in place some innovative visitor options. 

We have significantly reduced face-to-face visits and put strategies in place to support residents and their families to stay in touch, going so far as building dedicated visiting rooms, so that residents can chat with loved ones, protected by glass screens. New customer service officers at each campus also facilitate video catch-ups, visitor room appointments and regular check-ins with family members. We also introduced regular online resident and family forums, to keep everyone informed about what we were doing.

Mr Fitzgerald says being part of a larger public health service means that WDHS has greater capacity to respond in the event of a local outbreak.

“Because our aged care facilities are part of a large regional health service, we have access to a highly skilled infection control team, stocks of personal protective equipment and in the event of an outbreak, we can mobilise our nursing workforce from other parts of the organisation.

We also have outbreak management plans in place and will enact them quickly should the need arise. An outbreak management plan helps staff identify, respond to and manage a potential COVID-19 outbreak, protect the health of staff and residents and reduce the severity and duration of outbreaks if they occur.

He says WDHS also employs predominantly registered and enrolled nurses in its aged care homes and staff have been upskilled to manage the clinical care and quarantine of residents in each facility.

“We continue to work collaboratively with the Victorian and Commonwealth Departments of Health and the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, to ensure our residents stay safe.

While we are not immune from the reach of the virus, I have every confidence in our highly trained team of aged care professionals to do everything within their power to reduce the risk of its spread within our facilities. 

But we need everyone to consider how they too, can protect the most vulnerable members of our community, in the challenging weeks and months ahead,” Mr Fitzgerald said.

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