Response Centre marks 7 weeks in operation

In its first 7 weeks of operations, the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre has worked at rapid pace to deploy much-needed resources and expand operational capacity as part of its robust effort to stabilise Victoria’s residential aged care sector.

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With 170 outbreaks in Victorian aged care facilities to date, the work of the Response Centre has seen the number of ‘Category 1’ facilities fall to zero from a high of 13 in early August. In addition, there were 119 facilities on the Response Centre’s ‘Category 2’ list of facilities at risk, which this week has reduced to only 3.

Executive Officer of the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre, Joe Buffone, says “Our mission has always been the safety and care of residents, the safety of staff, and to stabilise a complex system through unification of effort.”

Many of these positive developments can be attributed to the Response Centre’s rapid intervention effort, comprising more than 450 hospital transfers, enhanced infection control and screening practices, and the deployment of a surge workforce flown in from right around the country.

A remaining 78 facilities are currently experiencing outbreaks. This is 50 fewer than at the peak of the outbreak. The Response Centre is working alongside case managers, public health units, peak bodies and aged care providers to actively monitor and support these facilities as required.

With the acute situation defused, the Response Centre is further ramping up its prevention effort and has begun supporting residents to return to their aged care homes. The Epping Gardens aged care facility now has 15 residents who have been transferred back to their residence.

To date, 94% of metropolitan facilities and 89% of regional facilities have received an in-person prevention visit, where multi-disciplinary teams have provided practical solutions for infection control, assessed existing procedures, and boosted infection and prevention control measures.

Key prevention activities

  • More than 170 ADF personnel have supported the work of the Response Centre.
    • A 100-strong ADF deployment has visited 452 facilities to deliver prevention training.
    • 40 ADF clinicians are providing on-the-ground medical support.
    • A tri-service support system of 34 Army, Navy and Air Force officers are also embedded within the Response Centre, fulfilling a range of cross-functional Planning, Operations and Intelligence duties.
  • The Commission for Aged Care Quality and Safety has worked closely with the Response Centre and has completed 169 spot checks on facilities around Victoria.
  • Western Health has also assisted with prevention measures at 37 facilities.
  • Australian Medical Assistance Teams (AUSMAT) have completed 174 visits to 80 facilities, with 40 personnel from across the country.
  • Daily Zoom meetings and webinars are ongoing with facilities to assist with best practice in the prevention space and supporting return to work arrangements for furloughed staff. 14 meetings have been held to date with around 500 participants.
  • In partnership with peak industry bodies, the Response Centre is co-hosting a ‘Lunch and Learn’ webinar series on a range of aged care topics, including preparation and prevention, PPE and enhancing communications with families. 500 participants have registered for the 5-part series.
  • Peak bodies for the aged care sector have also come together in a weekly stakeholder meeting co-chaired by the Federal Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, the Hon Richard Colbeck, and State Minister for Disability, Ageing and Carers, the Hon Luke Donnellan.
  • The Response Centre continues to work with aged care facilities to support their communications with families and the primary contacts of residents. The Response Centre has provided direct communications support to 8 facilities during acute outbreaks, facilitating a total of 956 outbound calls and 740 inbound calls.

“Our focus on prevention is to build resilience and strengthen the front line to stop the transmission of the virus spreading in aged care facilities,” said Joe Buffone.

Workforce assistance

Hundreds of aged care staff across Victoria remain unable to work due to being COVID-19 positive or having been identified as a close contact.

With facilities losing a significant proportion of their workforce in a matter of hours if an acute outbreak is detected, there can be devastating consequences.

The Response Centre has cast a wide net to safely handle this situation, drawing from across industry and government to help support the existing workforce while they are experiencing gaps.

  • Interstate workers from around the country have bolstered the Victorian response effort, with representatives coming from every Australian state and territory to fill roles in nursing, personal care and cleaning. A total of 115 personnel from 19 teams have provided assistance:
    • 71 personnel from 12 National Aged Care Emergency Response (NACER) teams from Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia.
    • 44 personnel from 7 teams deployed by the South Australian, Tasmanian and Western Australian state governments.
  • To further stabilise and strengthen the existing workforce throughout the pandemic, the Commonwealth have funded a surge workforce to assist aged care facilities. More than 28,000 shifts have been filled by this workforce to date.
  • A Residential Aged Care Safety Officer program of 50 personnel from health related disciplines including dentists, doctors, nurse, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and speech therapists has been established.
  • They have been deployed across 19 aged care facilities to support the orientation and safety of new and existing workers as they adapt to the COVID-19 work environment. Since their commencement in mid-August 2020, they have worked a total of 548 shifts or 4262 hours.
  • The Response Centre has partnered with Qantas, Virgin and Jetstar to utilise the transferrable skills of up to 150 aviation staff, including pilots, ground crew, flight attendance and hospitality staff, to assist with non-intimate care in Victoria’s aged care facilities.
  • A total of 33 of these Residential Aged Care Assistants have worked 151 shifts across four aged care facilities since their commencement in late August.

The Response Centre has coordinated a cross-government effort to manage a 200 to 900-fold increase in clinical waste for facilities experiencing outbreaks of COVID-19. Having supported 40 facilities in the disposal and pickup of these increased volumes of clinical waste, just 3 facilities are still receiving support for waste management.

In an Australian first, the Response Centre rolled out a health services hub network which unifies the efforts of the public and private health systems to respond to COVID-19 in aged care.

Nine health services hubs have been established throughout Victoria – four metropolitan hubs and five regional hubs – to align the work of health providers with Commonwealth resources in a more streamlined and coordinated way.

“We must remain resolute in our mission to not just provide continuity of care for residents, but also re-empower the entire aged care workforce,” said Joe Buffone.

“This has been a huge undertaking across the aged care sector, and we thank all of the aged care staff on the frontline – nurses, doctors, caterers, cleaners, and many more. We are deeply appreciative for all of the work done to protect our most vulnerable seniors.”

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