Prime Minister Scott Morrison has expressed concerns that older people may be suffering as a result of over-zealous COVID-19 restrictions, saying it was never the intention of the national cabinet to lock people away from their loved ones .

The prime minister said this applies to older Australians in their homes who may be experiencing a reduction in social contact as a result of coronavirus, or a drop in services they may previously have received, such as group activities and social outings.

“Any distance from loved ones and support people is not good for their wellbeing, is not good for their health,” he told a media conference on Tuesday.

“It doesn’t mean that for care and compassionate reasons that they can’t receive visits from those who would normally provide that care.

“That may be a relative, that might be a carer, it might be a friendly neighbour who regularly looks in on someone. This is important for the mental health and well-being of particularly elderly residents in our community.”

The reminder came as providers and community organisations across Australia are already stepping up with numerous innovative initiatives to ensure older Australians aren’t forgotten in the race to contain the pandemic.

Mobilising a care army

Uniting Care Qld has joined Queensland’s Care Army to operate a telephone hotline designed to provide social and emotional support to seniors affected by home quarantine.

Earlier this month Queensland’s Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced the mobilisation of a “Care Army” to support and protect seniors during coronavirus, similar the Mud Army that went into action after the 2011 floods.

This week she announced that Uniting Care will be funded to provide extra staff for the hotline.

 “UCQ are working closely with us by operating the Community Recovery Hotline telephone service for our seniors,” COVID-19 Seniors Taskforce co-chair Kate Jones said.

“That means that seniors in distress can get on the phone and talk to a specialist seven days a week.

“We understand that having to stay in isolation for long periods of time can be distressing and add to people’s loneliness.

“We’ve boosted funding to Uniting Care to put on more staff to answer these calls for help.”

Isolated older people who call the hotline will be linked with UCQ staff who can provide assistance with immediate needs, as well as Care Army volunteers.

UCQ will also work closely with local service providers including Meals on Wheels, neighbourhood centres and social isolation services to ensure that the needs of older Queenslanders who are in isolation at home are met.

Redeploying staff for welfare checks

Queensland not for profit Churches of Christ has redeployed staff whose jobs have been impacted by coronavirus to do welfare checks on isolated older people.

CEO Gary Edwards says head office staff previously involved in events, fleet, training, and hospitality have embraced the chance to help older people who may have dropped services as a result of the pandemic stay connected.

Modupe Akib from Churches of Christ conducts a wellfare check

They are also identifying clients who may need extra support or supplies.

“Being a diverse organisation with over 3000 staff, there has been areas of our business impacted by the current restrictions. We saw this as an opportunity to make use of their many and varied skills to help families connect with their loved ones, do welfare checks and help our frontline staff to continue to provide vital care to our ageing population,” Mr Edwards said.

Telephone social support

Health and aged care provider Bolton Clarke is also making social connection a focus for clients at home.

Led by its Bolton Clarke Research Institute (BCRI), the organisation has fast-tracked a telephone social support project which it hopes to have ready for national rollout soon.

The project is modelled on the successful HOW R U? initiative which provided post-discharge telephone support for older people to improve social connection and reduce loneliness.

The project will initially target older people living at home but there are plans to expand it to residents in aged care facilities.

Volunteers will be trained by partner organisation Friends for Good and will make regular calls to older home care clients.

BCRI Principal Research Fellow and Head of Research, Adj Professor Judy Lowthian says addressing social isolation and loneliness is always important for health and wellbeing, but even more so during COVID-19.

“Telephone support has been found to reduce feelings of social isolation, loneliness and depression and to improve quality of life,” she said.

Community transport gets on the bus

Driver Brad Ladkin

Bankstown Canterbury Community Transport has been operating in the local area for over 30 years, providing transport to 3,800 clients.

To ensure they don’t miss out during isolation, the team has been picking up the phone and calling clients to check in, chat and encourage them to keep on top of ongoing health issues.

Brad Ladkin, normally employed as a driver, says he’s now speaking to about 35 people a day.

“The phone calls have all been happily answered, clients are delighted we are still providing transport and we are able to assist them with travel needs and others are feeling the loneliness of the lock down and have been grateful to have a chance to chat,” he says.

BCCT Executive Officer, Rachel Thompson says community transport is still being provided to ensure continued access to health services.

Counselling

Aged care health and wellbeing provider ComLink has partnered with counselling students at University of the Sunshine Coast in a weekly phone and video chat program with clients.

Master of Counselling program coordinator Dr Mark Pearson says the Tele-Friends program is a win-win because it gives students experience while providing social connection for older people.

“Our students know how to converse in a way that lifts spirits and enhances wellbeing at a time when people are feeling particularly isolated or lonely,” Dr Pearson said.

“The plan is that they will develop an ongoing relationship with an older person and arrange a certain time each week for the call.”

Building resilience

Meanwhile, Ku-rin-gai Council’s in Sydney’s north has teamed with the Resilience Centre, a local positive psychology clinic that holds workshops and seminars, to support and build resilience in vulnerable residents, including the elderly and disabled.

Under the partnership, residents can participate in Zoom workshops on a range of topics including dealing with uncertainty and planning for life after coronavirus.

“We know that vulnerable residents are feeling quite isolated at this time. These workshops will help them reconnect with organisations that can help them as well as others who are in similar situations,” Mayor Jenny Anderson said.

Main image: Darlene Tulloch from Churches of Christ conducts a welfare check

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