Australian first – aged care hub network rolled out in record time

In an Australian first, the federal government has established the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre and a health services hub network which unifies the efforts of the public and private health systems.

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In an Australian first, the federal government established the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre and a health services hub network which unifies the efforts of the public and private health systems, ensuring COVID-19 outbreaks at aged care facilities are managed with the best available resourcing across a number of local services.

The Response Centre is coordinating the response to COVID-19 outbreaks in aged care centres and has developed the model, known as the Victorian Health Services Coordination Hub, to enhance surveillance of outbreaks in the aged care sector. The model, which reaches across state and federal responsibilities to unite priorities, was rapidly developed in the first 3 weeks of the Centre’s operations.

'The hub network streamlines and coordinates aged care resources across metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria,' said Joe Buffone, Executive Officer of the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre.

Nine health service hubs have been established throughout Victoria – with the 4 metropolitan hubs being most in need. The metro hubs are:

  • Western Metropolitan
  • Northern Metropolitan
  • South and Eastern Metropolitan
  • Southern Metropolitan.

The regional hubs are:

  • Barwon South West
  • Grampians
  • Loddon Mallee
  • Hume
  • Gippsland.

In each hub, the coordinator works with facilities to assess the needs of aged care centres in their area and determines whether there are workforce shortages or other issues they may need support with. If required, the coordinator can then triage resources or other support within their hub to ensure the facilities who are most at need receive support.

The establishment of these hubs allows the private and public health providers working within each hub to align with the available Commonwealth resources in a more streamlined and coordinated way.

The Victorian Aged Care Response Centre acts as the central hub, providing a coordination point for the health services to escalate issues or seek additional support.

The Victorian Aged Care Response Centre has also developed a categorisation system for aged care facilities to track the level of resourcing and support they need. This is currently being rolled out across the hub network.

All aged care facilities are graded on their level of exposure to the virus and the consequences they are facing – from facilities that are free of the virus (white), to those where urgent action is required (red).

This includes the development of 4 distinct, colour-coded categories:

  • at risk (white)
  • new (yellow)
  • ongoing (orange)
  • critical (red).

One of these 4 codes is assigned to each aged care facility across the state.

These categories represent the types of outbreaks in facilities and assist the Response Centre in identifying the level of support required for each facility. Where necessary the Response Centre can intervene with early support to help the facility manage the situation.

Facilities at ‘critical’ risk may require significant workforce and other support such as the transfer of some or most residents. More than 700 residents have been transferred to public and private hospitals during the pandemic.

Facilities that have not been touched by the virus are provided with training in infection control and prevention measures to strengthen their defences against the virus.

'When the model was first developed the Response Centre was tracking 13 facilities in the red category in early August. That number has stabilised to 4 facilities in the red category this week,' said Joe Buffone.

The unfolding situation is tracked real time and facilities can change in their category on an hourly basis dependent on their situation.

To support this work, a web-based Incident Management System has also been introduced to support the hub network, allowing case managers, providers, public health units and response teams to communicate openly with the Response Centre.

It aids the Response Centre’s ability to track and monitor cases and transfers in facilities, but also critical tasks across the sector, such as PPE provision and waste management. The information-sharing system can be used by both federal and state governments, providing a common operating picture for critical decision making.

'The Incident Management System was rolled out this week, and would normally take 6 months to produce. It was rapidly developed in just 9 days after a dedicated team worked around the clock,' said Joe Buffone.

Victoria has around 52,000 aged care residents in 767 aged care facilities – equivalent to a population greater than Shepparton’s, the fifth-largest city in the state.

'Of Victoria’s 767 residential aged care facilities, 129 currently have a COVID-19 outbreak. That’s 16.4% of all facilities,' said Joe Buffone. 'Less than 1% of facilities in Victoria are in the high-risk category, and whilst those facilities are being actively monitored they are currently stable and are well supported.'

About the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre

The Victorian Aged Care Response Centre is a joint arrangement between the federal and state governments, bringing together more than 60 staff from 21 agencies.

Its priorities are focused on:

  • care and safety of residents
  • safety of staff
  • unifying effort across agencies
  • rapid identification and prioritisation of outbreaks
  • rapid response and intervention
  • prevention of outbreaks
  • effective communication and engagement
  • protecting the health care system.

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