Covid management plan launched to bolster aged care in new year

The federal government has released a Covid health management plan for 2023, which includes advice for in-home and community aged care.

The federal government released a Covid health management plan for 2023 on Monday, which includes advice for residential, in-home and community aged care providers.

Mark Butler

Launching the document in Adelaide – which was informed by the likely Australian epidemiological outlook for the next 12 months and advice from the chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly – Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark Butler said existing arrangements to protect vulnerable groups in the country would be extended throughout the new year.

“They particularly relate to residential aged care, to residential disability care, and First Nations communities,” Mr Butler said at a press conference.

Taking to Twitter with Minister for Aged Care Anika Wells to promote the health management plan, Mr Butler said: “The government has moved quickly to prepare for Covid waves and bolster our health and aged care systems to protect vulnerable older Australians.”

The National Covid-19 Health Management Plan for 2023 includes supplying providers with personal protective equipment, rapid antigen tests “and other supports for aged care homes,” said Ms Wells.

“We are continuing access to surge workforce with additional workforce ready to be activated,” she added. “These measures will help aged care staff to manage outbreaks effectively and provide residents with the care they need,” said Ms Wells.

With further waves of coronavirus predicted to circulate Australia in coming months, “it remains crucial for aged care services to make sure elderly Australians, for whom they are responsible, in all service settings, receive appropriate protection from, and management of, any Covid-19 infections in their surrounds,” reads the 16-page document.

Aged care providers should ensure that appropriate infection prevention and control measures are in place and to plan for how they will scale up those measures should the need arise.

In the event of an outbreak, the level of protections and restrictions to be applied must be understood by both staff and residents, say document’s the authors.

Preparedness planning should include a dedicated plan in the following key areas:

  • identified leadership and governance for managing an outbreak
  • workforce contingencies
  • resource supply – such as PPE equipment
  • clinical governance
  • communications
  • arrangements to support ongoing visitation and recovery activities – for both older people in their home and those in residential care.

Aged care providers should be regularly assessing the risk to residents of Covid-19 within their facilities and “take all possible steps” to address any outbreaks. This includes establishing screening processes and lock-down zones.

However, the document’s authors call for any measures implemented to be commensurate with the identified risk. “This includes balancing the need for proportionate measures (for example, isolation of residents in their rooms) against maintaining the quality of life and wellbeing of residents.”  

Protections need to be managed in a way “that is cognisant of the rights of senior Australians,” add the authors, who note that “the impact of social isolation on the mental, social, physical and emotional wellbeing of older Australians can be profound.”

With that in mind, the authors recommend that all aged care residents – including those isolating – should have access to at least one essential visitor at all times.

As for staff who test positive for Covid, they should not attend work for at least seven days and until they have no symptoms of Covid-19. This includes staff providing close personal care to an older person in their home or a community setting.

As well, staff should be supported to take leave, including through the payment of leave “even when it might not necessarily be applicable.”

Aged care providers are expected to maintain sufficient staffing levels and have in place arrangements for a backup surge workforce to manage any outbreak that occurs.

Finally, the document’s authors urge residential aged care providers managing Covid outbreaks to engage with the Department of Health and Aged Care on a regular basis. This includes reporting of cases through the My Aged Care provider portal.

The document’s release follows a plea to providers by the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission’s chief clinical advisor Dr Melanie Wroth to maintain vigilance “and not slip back into pre-Covid-19 habits.”

According to government figures – as of 8 December – there were 5,164 active COVID-19 cases in 695 residential aged care facilities across Australia.

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