Industry maintains COVID-19 vigilance

By Paul Sadler, Interim CEO, ACCPA
Monday, 25 July, 2022

Industry maintains COVID-19 vigilance

The appearance of a third wave of COVID-19 over the past month has once again set the aged care sector, particularly residential aged care providers, on edge.

With borders opening late last year, the lifting of mask mandates coupled with the removal of travel restrictions this year there has been a sense among the population — and some media outlets — that the pandemic is behind us.

But those who provide care and support to older Australians — and families of aged care support recipients and residents — know all too well that is far from the reality and will be for some time to come.

The advent of the third wave, driven by the new BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants that took hold during July, means the sector is again, sadly, facing increased deaths in aged care and severe workforce shortages.

We know that providers and their dedicated staff are working hard to protect their residents and clients from infection, doing all they can to avoid a repeat of the tragedy of 2100 deaths in the first half of 2022.

It was a welcome decision by the government to reinstate COVID support payments for casual workers who test positive or are forced to isolate. But the availability of surge workforce for aged care providers stricken by high absenteeism remains a concern.

ACCPA raised these and other concerns with the federal government early in July as the number of COVID outbreaks nearly doubled each week and continues to update the Department of Health and Aged Care on how providers are impacted.

By mid-July more than 5200 residents and 2700 staff were infected with COVID and 223 residents had died in the first two weeks of the month.

ACCPA is working to support providers to avoid at all costs a repeat of the Omicron wave at the beginning of the year. This third COVID wave shows that we cannot afford to drop our guard when it comes to infection prevention — we must remain vigilant.

Fortunately, we are better prepared with antivirals, high vaccination rates along with supplies of PPE and RATs but providers have been stretched to breaking point for some time. As I have stated before, staff are stressed and fatigued as we pass the halfway mark of our third year of the pandemic.

The change of federal government in May means we can now work on fixing workforce wages and conditions and bringing more workers into aged care. But this could take months before there is any lasting impact.

As a sector, we are working to build positive engagement with the new government with a focus on resetting aspects of aged care reform identified by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.

The reset focuses on fixing workforce issues and sustainable funding first. The government committed during the election campaign to fully fund a wage rise coming out of the current Fair Work Commission work value case.

We also anticipate government action soon in relation to key Royal Commission recommendations like the establishment of an Independent Pricing Authority so that the cost of services can be transparently evaluated.

That brings me to the extremely disappointing decision by the government regarding indexation where it raised the level of subsidies paid to aged care providers for 2022–23 by only 1.7%, well below inflation and a far cry from the 9% increase granted to the NDIS.

The government has held out hope saying the indexation decision was never going to be the answer and wait until October when it will become clearer as to what its plans are for fixing aged care.

The situation is dire for many in the sector with StewartBrown financial viability data released in June finding 64% of providers are operating in deficit. While the Committee for Economic Development (CEDA) research also released in June shows the sector will be 35,000 workers short this year — double the number for last year.

This only strengthens our resolve. Now, more than ever, our sector needs a strong and well-resourced advocate on its side able to take the concerns and needs of aged and community care providers to government and stakeholders in aged care.

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