Protecting Older Australians – COVID-19 update 13 January 2023

In this edition: Reporting of aged care residents and staff influenza vaccinations; Oversight of the Commission's infection prevention and control (IPC); 2023 COVID-19 support for aged care and helpful resources

Date published:
Audience:
Health sector

Reporting of aged care residents and aged care staff influenza vaccinations by end of January 2023

Under the Aged Care Act 1997, Accountability Principles, each aged care service (listed below) is required to report annually on the number of residential aged care residents, and aged care staff who received an influenza vaccination.

  • Home Care Package services – staff only
  • Residential Aged Care Services – residents and staff
  • Multipurpose Services – residents and staff
  • Transition Care Program services delivered in a residential age care setting – residents and staff
  • Short Term Restorative Care services delivered in residential aged care settings – residents and staff.

The provision of information from staff to aged care services about their influenza vaccination status is voluntary. However, all aged care services need to submit a report containing the information that is available to them.

To date, responses from home care services have been low. We strongly encourage home care services to submit a report detailing all aged care staff who voluntarily informed aged care providers they received an influenza vaccination in 2022.

All services are strongly encouraged to submit their reports (as at 31 October 2022) via the online form prior to the end of January 2023. Note this form will not be available from February 2023.

Reporting the number of residents and aged care staff who received an influenza vaccination annually is important information to support future activities in the lead up to each annual influenza season and to make sure adequate steps are being taken to protect residents and staff.

The Commission's infection prevention and control oversight

The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission (the Commission) has a critical role in making sure that aged care providers continue to lift and sustain their capability in infection prevention and control (IPC). 

The Commission has been given additional funding to expand and enhance existing IPC oversight across its regulatory functions.

The additional funding is being used to:

  • expand the infection control monitoring (ICM) spot check program of on-site visits to residential aged care services to observe and provide feedback on IPC practices
  • deliver additional fit-for-purpose education, resources and communications both sector-wide and for targeted provider cohorts (including providers assessed as being at higher risk of poor IPC practices).

For more information and resources for aged care providers, visit the Commission's website.

COVID-19 Supports for Aged Care in 2023

The Australian Government continues to support the aged care sector through COVID-19 in 2023. Even if you do not have a case manager assigned to you during an outbreak, there are support pathways available that include:

  • access to the National Medical Stockpile (NMS) – for personal protective equipment (PPE) and rapid antigen test kits (RATs) until 31 December 2023
  • COVID-19 pathology in-reach PCR testing through SONIC until 30 April 2023
  • COVID-19 in-reach vaccination clinics for residents until 31 December 2023
  • COVID-19 antiviral treatments through community pharmacy and the PBS on an ongoing basis surge workforce until 31 December 2023
  • COVID-19 support grant until 31 December 2023
  • COVID-19 Aged Care Support Program Extension Grant (GO4863) – extension to closing date for applications
  • access to the high-risk setting pandemic payment.

Access to the National Medical Stockpile (NMS) - PPE and RATs

The supply of PPE, through the NMS, continues to be available until 31 December 2023 to support residential aged care homes that are in outbreak when commercial supplies are unavailable or insufficient.

If your residential aged care home is experiencing an outbreak and you have exhausted all attempts to source PPE from commercial suppliers, you can request additional PPE through the My Aged Care Provider portal.

RAT kits continue to be supplied to residential care homes on a weekly basis from the NMS for surveillance screening of staff and visitors. If you wish to cease or decrease the frequency of these deliveries, please email the Department at agedcarecovidliaison@health.gov.au.

Having effective surveillance testing in place will let you detect COVID-19 much earlier and enact a swifter response.

We recommend conducting surveillance screening of staff at least 2 times per week and not more than 72 hours apart, or on entry for each visitor. This should increase to daily testing of staff, visitors and residents during an outbreak to help minimise the spread of infections.

Visitors can also use their own RAT kits prior to their visit and it is appropriate for you to ask for evidence of their test result.

COVID-19 pathology in-reach PCR testing

In-reach COVID-19 PCR testing continues to be provided by Sonic Healthcare (Sonic) to residential aged care homes that are managing COVID-19 outbreaks until 30 April 2023.

It remains a requirement that any requests for COVID-19 PCR testing should only be made where a GP has determined the testing is necessary to inform the clinical management of the resident or where the PHU has determined PCR testing is needed to support outbreak management activities.

Under this program, the requesting practitioner for in-reach COVID-19 PCR testing may either be:

  • a practitioner that has a relationship with the residential aged care home, such as a GP or nurse practitioner; or
  • a practitioner within a state or territory PHU.

COVID-19 cases must also be reported through the My Aged Care Provider portal to access PCR in-reach testing.

COVID-19 Vaccination Program

For the next 12 months, COVID-19 vaccines are expected to be principally administered in residential aged care homes by primary care providers such as general practitioners and pharmacists. These primary care providers are well placed to continue this work.

The Vaccine Administration Partners Program (VAPP) will provide additional help for aged care through the delivery of COVID-19 in-reach clinics in residential aged care homes in circumstances where there is a shortfall in primary care availability to administer COVID-19 vaccinations in this setting.

Primary Health Networks (PHNs) will continue to receive funding under the Vulnerable Vaccination Program to develop and implement innovative, short-term COVID-19 vaccination activities, tailored to the needs of priority populations in their regions, including aged care.

COVID-19 oral antiviral treatments

Access to antiviral treatments continues to be available on an ongoing basis through community pharmacy and the PBS.

To expediate residents’ access to COVID-19 oral antiviral treatments, Lagevrio®(molnupiravir) and Paxlovid® (nirmatrelvir and ritonavir), aged care providers should pre-assess residents for consent, discuss the administration of the medicine with residents, staff and primary care and have clear and established pathways with community pharmacies. We also encourage these conversations with home care clients.

To support prompt treatment of patients, GPs and nurse practitioners can now add Lagevrio® and Paxlovid® to their Prescriber Bag supplies.

This means, for those residents you have had early discussions with about COVID oral antiviral treatment, who test positive to COVID-19 and have given consent to oral antiviral treatment, can get prompt administration of these medications.

Please continue to review the use of COVID-19 oral antivirals and discussions between residents and GPs about these treatments to determine suitability and eligibility.

Surge Workforce

Access to surge workforce support remains in place until 31 December 2023 for aged care homes impacted by COVID-19 outbreaks. These supports will be provided through contracted providers and through an increased broader casual agency pool and where it is assessed as necessary to ensure quality care and services can continue.

2023 COVID 19 Aged Care Support Grant

The 2023 COVID-19 Aged Care Support Grant will continue to support eligible Commonwealth funded, approved providers of residential and home care services with costs they have incurred due to COVID-19 outbreaks (or COVID-19 impacted home care recipients) between 1 January 2023 and 31 December 2023.

More information will be available on the Grant Connect website once details are finalised.

COVID-19 Aged Care Support Program Extension Grant (GO4863) – extension to closing date for applications

The closing date for applications to the COVID-19 Aged Care Support Program Extension grant has been extended to 2pm Canberra local time on 31 March 2023 to support approved aged care providers with the additional costs associated with managing COVID-19 between 28 May 2021 to 31 December 2022.

Providers are encouraged to make sure applications are submitted by the closing date. Late applications will not be accepted.

The GrantConnect website, including the Grant Opportunity Guidelines and answers to Frequently Asked Questions has been updated to reflect this change.

High-risk setting pandemic payment

The high-risk settings pandemic payment remains in place for aged care staff who work in high-risk settings over the summer.

The high-risk settings pandemic payment is a lump sum payment to help staff if they can’t work and earn an income, because they have tested positive for COVID-19. Casual staff who work in residential aged care or who provide close personal care in the home or community may be eligible to apply.

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