Preparing for emergencies
In aged care, the risk of emergencies is heightened. Extreme weather conditions in some parts of Australia, like floods, cyclones, heat and the threat of bushfires, can increase the risk further.
In high-risk seasons, aged care services and facilities are more likely to experience:
- staff shortages
- power and system failures
- restricted access to essential supplies
All aged care providers should have an emergency management plan in place, to ensure elderly Australians are protected. Some funding agreements and grants may also include this as a requirement.
Local government authorities may also require you to assess risks and report to them on threat levels.
Communicating with relevant agencies in your area and taking part in emergency management forums and groups can also help your preparation.
What to do in an emergency
In an emergency, call 000 or the local emergency services.
States and territories are the first responders to any incident within their jurisdiction and primary responsibility for the protection of life, property and the environment win the bounds of their jurisdiction.
In the event you require assistance during an emergency it is imperative that aged care providers contact 000 or the local emergency services agency in the first instance. This will ensure that requests for assistance are considered, and prioritised, in the context of the local response efforts.
The Department of Health and Aged Care cannot provide direct assistance, such as assistance physically preparing your service for an anticipated impact, evacuation support such as transport or recovery support such as clean up or repairing damaged buildings, to you in these instances.
Contacting your state or territory Department of Health and Aged Care Network Office during an emergency
Aged care providers are required to contact the Department of Health and Aged Care to report impacts of an emergency that are likely to affect their ability to provide safe quality care – such as an evacuation or an order to shelter in place.
It is imperative that aged care providers contact 000 or the local emergency services agency in the first instance.
Contact your state or territory Department of Health and Aged Care office if:
- you need to evacuate or relocate residential aged care residents and need help to find other accommodation
- your service cannot meet its obligations under its grant or aged care funding agreement
Continuing services during an emergency event
During an emergency, providers must continue to maintain quality care and services to care recipients as required by the Aged Care Quality Standards (Quality Standards).
This is a requirement under the Aged Care Act 1997, or your grant or aged care funding agreement.
Who is responsible during an emergency?
All aged care services should have, and be ready to activate, emergency management plans. Emergency management plans should clearly identify staff roles before, during and after an emergency. It should also let you know what to do and how to find resources.
Providers are responsible for costs of planning for and during an emergency, including all relocation costs.
Volunteers without police checks can assist, as long as they are reasonably supervised, as set out in the Aged Care Worker Screening Guidelines.
Provider Obligations – be risk ready
Planning and preparedness for emergency events is of critical importance across the aged care sector to reduce the risk of their occurrence and enables providers to respond quickly and decisively when they arise.
Aged care providers in flood, fire or cyclone prone areas should review and stress test plans to ensure they are contemporary and align with the potential threats that may lay in the weeks and months ahead.
Aged care providers should be informed and ready to act in all situations of emergency. It is important that aged care providers are prepared for, and ready to respond to, potential impacts on their services.
The Aged Care Quality Standards require providers to demonstrate they have an effective risk management system and practices in place that can be activated during times of crisis, to ensure they can appropriately manage high-impact risks associated with the care of consumers (Standard 3 and Standard 8).
A slow or ineffective response to an emergency event by a provider places both older people and staff at increased risk of harm.
In preparation for and in response to an emergency event, providers are expected to:
- respond to staff shortages where staff are unable to travel to and from work due to emergency event or other personal circumstances
- undertake appropriate assessment and care planning and establish interim arrangements for continuity of care and access to services (with a focus on those at highest risk)
- plan for critical infrastructure issues including power failures
- identify, support and monitor situations where older people have been and continue to be impacted by the floods, bushfire, extreme heatwave or other weather events
- adapt service delivery to accommodate restricted access to essential supply chains.
For home service providers, additional activities include welfare checks via phone. These welfare checks could alert you to a situation which requires immediate action, including possible referral to an emergency responder. It is expected that all efforts are made to address any issues identified through this outreach, including working with another provider to deliver care or services where your staff are unable to attend.
High-risk weather season presentation – Aged Care October 2022
On 28 October 2022, National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), the Department of Health and Aged Care (the Department) and the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission (the Commission) hosted a high-risk weather season briefing for the aged care sector. This briefing contained the long-term weather forecast and high level information about the roles and responsibilities of service providers, the Department, Commission and NEMA.
This presentation sets out information from the Bureau of Meteorology, NEMA and the Department. The information is intended to raise awareness for the likely impacts of the 2022-23 high-risk weather season, remind approved providers of critical aspects of their emergency management plan that they may need to consider and how the Australian Government Crisis Management Framework and National Incident Centre works.
Preparing for a flood event
On 10 October 2022, the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) released its long-range forecast for Australia's coming severe weather season including an increased risk of widespread flooding for eastern and northern Australia and an increased risk of an above average number of tropical cyclones and tropical lows.
This may present challenges for aged care services, such as evacuations, staff shortages and reduced capacity to visit vulnerable care recipients in the community.
Being prepared enables you to enact effective responses while continuing to provide quality aged care services to vulnerable older Australians.
It is important to remain vigilant, even if an initial threat has passed. Continuing rainfall may result in renewed flooding in some areas.
Information on health supports for flood affected regions can be found on the Department’s website.
Preparing for extreme heat
Extreme heat is a high-risk time for emergencies in aged care settings.
You can check for heatwave information in your area with the Heatwave Service for Australia.
Costs during and after an emergency
Where care recipients are relocated, the Government will continue to pay subsidies to the provider responsible for their ongoing care and the responsible provider will continue to collect the resident's aged care fees. It is the relocating provider's responsibility to arrange to reimburse the receiving facility's incurred costs.
You may use Home Care Package funding to cover the transportation and/or accommodation costs in emergencies where it would ensure continuity of care for the care recipients.
The Australian and/or State or Territory Government may make emergency funding available following extraordinary events.