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Mercury Talking Point: Pandemic makes helping the frail, elderly, and disabled challenging

Jan 28, 2022

Allyson Warrington says Covid-19 has made keeping clients living in their own homes even more difficult than ever

As we head into 2022 in earnest, the reality of living with COVID-19, now into its third year is hitting home in the Tasmanian community sector. At Community Based Support, we have lived our lives and delivered our services to more than 2500 vulnerable Tasmanians, both aged care and disability clients, following the advice of Public Health.

We are supportive of the Gutwein government’s overall direction. Tasmania needs to move on with its open border policy but we need to recognise the playing field remains challenging and such action has consequences.
Understandably, there is a national focus on what occurs in residential aged care but at Community Based Support we have to focus on keeping clients safe in their homes. Many of our clients, like thousands of other Tasmanian families want to see family and friends from interstate. But concurrently, they are anxious about receiving visitors in their homes. Some are putting their regular supports on hold to avoid contact with people, which is concerning because we need to ensure their health and wellbeing.

What consumes us in 2022 is what consumes the rest of the state in whatever industry in which you operate, concern at contracting COVID-19. We have clients and staff actually contracting the virus and having to isolate, as well as their close contacts.
For Community Based Support, this means constant roster changes for support staff, last minute cancellations for clients and staff as well as rostering and co-ordination teams working in challenging and changing environments. In some circumstances, this means paying salaries without associated government funding because of those last minute roster changes and no outputs being delivered.

What I am extremely proud of is that Community Based Support has continued to service our clients, whether they have contracted COVID-19 or not. I want to pay tribute to our staff and to all in our sector who continue to do their job.

Our staff are dedicated to caring for the vulnerable, particularly when ill. They do so at their own risk albeit they have been extensively trained in the proper use of PPE. That extra training is another expense that falls on the not-for-profit sector.

What I will say is that our community-based support workers fall into a similar category of frontline workers across Australia. They turn up to work in these challenging times and care for people with whom they have built strong and lasting relationships.

Like many community sector groups, we have a range of staff levels — full-time, part-time and casual. Many of our workers work across several related and nonrelated sectors and industries. What becomes difficult is when staff, having contracted COVID-19, have to cease work. Some, without entitlements don’t get paid which is also the case for our casual staff who fall sick with the virus. We understand this creates great anxiety for people with families to care for and bills to pay which have to go on hold until they are well again.

We acknowledge that the government has more pandemic relief payment options available which must be applied for. The difficulty is that we are all in the same situation, the potential option of “sharing” resources in itself creates more risks with having workers across different settings, particularly residential aged care and community care.

Another issue for some segments of the community sector is the costs associated with PPE. With a workforce of 350 plus for us, which is not funded by government in community care settings, they are quite significant.

Prior to COVID-19 becoming our day-to-day reality in 2020, workforce pressures (as in shortages) were already an issue. Like the rest of Australian society, this has been greatly exacerbated by the pandemic.

Some days, we are forced into a position of having to prioritise clients to receive care based on the level of care they are receiving. We will only do this if an alternative is available for our clients.

For example, if there is family who can help with shopping we will drop that client on that day or week and focus on another client who needs personal care and other high end supports. Again, this is not a complaint, this is just raising one of the many issues we (and others in our sector) will continue to try to overcome as COVID-19 maintains its significant presence in our community.

What we will do, is keep doing our best to service our clients. We will continue to follow Public Health advice.

And we will get through this.

Allyson Warrington is chief executive officer of Community Based Support.

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