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When the federal authorities decreed that Australians ought to “stay with Covid”, the security of older folks dwelling in aged care properties was as soon as once more not on the Coalition’s radar.

In yet one more predictable catastrophe, Covid has unfold like wildfire in aged care properties.

On Christmas Eve, 105 aged care properties round Australia had an lively outbreak. Two weeks later (7 January), the variety of properties with an outbreak had exploded, greater than quadrupling to 495. There are 168 outbreaks in New South Wales, 133 in Victoria, 69 in South Australia, 110 in Queensland, 12 in Tasmania, two within the ACT and one in Northern Territory.

There are presently 1,465 residents and 1,875 workers who’re optimistic for Covid. A single case – both resident or workers – has precipitated many aged care properties to lock residents in and households out.

Though aged care suppliers declare lockdowns are performed to “save lives”, what sort of life is it when you find yourself unable to be with the folks you like?

For about one third of residents, this was their final Christmas. It’s heartbreaking that so many had been unable to spend the vacations with their households. And in some properties, residents are confined to their rooms throughout a lockdown. This isn’t solely profoundly damaging to their psychological and bodily wellbeing, however can be probably illegal.

With a continual scarcity of workers in lots of aged care properties, households are extra involved residents will die of neglect than Covid. Will workers have time to assist residents eat their meals, guarantee they drink, stroll them to the bathroom and supply social stimulation?

Somewhat than mandate a nationwide standards for who can enter an aged care dwelling throughout an outbreak, the federal authorities permits suppliers to make their very own guidelines. The federal authorities has a “hands-off method”, treating every aged care dwelling as a person enterprise.

In consequence many aged care properties are a legislation unto themselves. They impose their very own guidelines about who can and may’t enter their dwelling, regardless of the general public well being orders and the height our bodies’ industry code for visiting residential aged care homes.

So what has gone so terribly incorrect throughout the newest Omicron wave? Why are so many aged care properties in lockdown?

The strollout of vaccine boosters to residents is one key failure.

Two months in the past, on 8 November, the minister for well being and aged care, Greg Hunt, introduced the start of the booster program in aged care properties. The boosters can be offered by “in-reach clinics delivered primarily by vaccine administration suppliers underneath contract preparations with the commonwealth”.

Somewhat than depend on the prevailing buildings that efficiently administer the annual flu booster to residents – with native GPs visiting the aged care properties – the federal authorities outsourced the Covid booster rollout to personal corporations.

Though correct numbers are troublesome to establish, these “in-reach clinics” had solely visited round 50% of aged care properties earlier than Christmas. After which one of many non-public corporations, Aspen Medical, took holidays over the Christmas break.

Regardless of all of the proof on the contrary, the minister for aged care companies, Richard Colbeck, put a positive spin on the failure of the booster program: “We’re most likely – we’re a bit forward of the place we thought we’d be once we began this system in early November.”

This absurd assertion signifies Colbeck doesn’t recognise the significance of boosters to guard residents when group transmission charges are excessive.

For instance, three residents died just lately throughout an outbreak in Bene aged care in St Agnes in South Australia. Can Colbeck affirm whether or not residents at this aged care dwelling have acquired a booster?

A second failure includes speedy antigen assessments. Practically 5 months in the past, on 15 August, Hunt introduced RATs can be out there to aged care properties. “We anticipate that common use of RAT to display screen aged care staff and guests will present a lot better reassurance,” he stated.

Speedy assessments are key to making sure the security of each residents and workers. Most of the lockdowns may have been averted if all workers had taken a speedy antigen check earlier than every shift since August. Whereas taking a check could also be inconvenient and time-consuming, it’s infinitely preferable to placing residents and households by way of the trauma of a lockdown.

In keeping with the Division of Well being website: “Kits are actually out there for screening employees and guests in aged care environments to assist stop outbreaks, or comprise the unfold of outbreaks.”

But some aged care properties haven’t had free entry to the nationwide stockpile of speedy antigen assessments, whereas others properties have. On 23 and 24 December 2021, in response the rise of Omicron infections in NSW, a surge deployment of speedy antigen assessments had been distributed to main well being networks in NSW for distribution to aged care properties of their areas. As soon as once more, this was too little and much too late.

The newest data additionally highlights the truth that some aged care properties have had a major enhance in residents testing optimistic over the previous fortnight, whereas others have been in a position to comprise the unfold. This implies some properties have a superb “pandemic plan” and others don’t.

As well as, a number of aged care properties have had quite a few outbreaks. St George aged care centre (NSW), for instance, is presently experiencing its fifth outbreak, whereas others have had none. Has the regulator assessed the an infection management protocols and staffing ranges at properties with quite a few outbreaks? Not taking such a step appears a most simple dereliction of obligation from a regulator.

The shortage of management and the “hands-off method” of Hunt, Colbeck and the Aged Care High quality and Security Fee throughout the pandemic has had heartbreaking penalties for a lot of residents and households across the nation.

Eventually our federal authorities should be held to account for the quite a few preventable tragedies which have occurred within the aged care sector.

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