On 27 August, the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre — established to protect Victoria’s senior Australians living in aged care from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic — released an update on its first month of operations. Established on 27 July, the Response Centre stated that it immediately began responding to severe outbreaks at a number of facilities. In the first weeks of operation, 13 aged care facilities were deemed ‘high risk’ in Victoria; this has now stabilised to three facilities, less than 1% of aged care facilities in the state.
Executive Officer Joe Buffone described the first month as a huge operational commitment focused on being adaptive and providing rapid response. “The coordinated effort has seen a stabilisation across aged care facilities and while we recognise that the pandemic is not over, we have experienced a reduction in facilities that require acute intervention,” Buffone said. The Response Centre has been working alongside registered aged care facilities, case managers, public health units, peak bodies and aged care providers to establish a number of systems and operating models to provide direct support to aged care facilities.
The effort of all involved has seen more than 60 staff from 21 federal and state government and private sector agencies come together to provide much needed resources and expand state-wide operational capacity to provide continuity of care for residents and support the aged care workforce, the Response Centre said. The Response Centre also said it has responded to and stabilised eight acute aged care facility outbreaks that could no longer guarantee continuity of care for their residents.
In its first week of operation, it dispatched urgent face shields and masks to all 767 aged care facilities. It is now monitoring and supporting 116 aged care facilities in Victoria that have COVID-positive outbreaks. The Response Centre has also established a health services hub network, which unifies efforts of private and public health providers and provides access to available Commonwealth resources in a streamlined way.
A web-based incident management system has also been developed to track and monitor cases and transfers in facilities, as well as critical tasks across the sector, such as personal protective equipment (PPE) provision and waste management. The information sharing system can be used by federal and state governments, providing a common operating picture for critical decision-making.
An ‘early warning system’ has been developed to identify facilities that have suspected cases to enable early support to prepare for a potential outbreak. Australian Medical Assistance Teams (AUSMAT) have completed 160 visits to 72 facilities, with 25 personnel from across the country, who have responded and provided practical solutions to assist facilities in infection control, assessing existing procedures and boosting infection prevention and control measures.
The Commission for Aged Care Quality and Safety has also worked with the centre, completing 100 spot-checks on facilities around Victoria. Western Health has assisted with prevention measures at 33 facilities. Fifteen interstate and National Aged Care Emergency Response (NACER) teams, comprised of 88 personnel, have assisted Victorian aged care facilities over the month, while more than 20,000 shifts have been filled by a Commonwealth-funded surge workforce to assist aged care facilities members, with 17,073 shifts filled by the Recruitment, Consulting and Staffing Association (RSCA), 2304 shifts filled by Healthcare Australia staff, 833 shifts filled by 74 Mable contractors and 413 roles filled by Aspen Medical staff.
A Residential Aged Care Safety Officer program of 50 personnel from a range of health-related disciplines has also been established, with personnel deployed across the state to support the orientation and safety of new and existing workers as they adapt to the COVID-19 environment. The Response Centre said that it has also partnered with the aviation industry to develop a Residential Aged Care Assistant role to support non-intimate care in aged care facilities across Victoria, with a training pilot program underway.
The Response Centre has also worked to help the families of aged care residents stay informed of the status of their loved ones, facilitating close to 1000 outbound calls to primary contacts of residents at eight aged care facilities and responding to more than 700 inbound calls. “There is always a human face at the front of our mind as we respond to these outbreaks — we are doing everything we can to help protect our most vulnerable seniors,” Buffone said.
Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Andrey Popov