Aged Care Providers: Overcoming the Challenges of COVID-19

The impact of COVID-19 is constantly changing state-by-state across Australia, and this includes its impact on Aged Care providers both community and residential focused.

The majority of providers are adapting and quickly changing the way they deliver services to consumers however the challenges remain, nonetheless.

In speaking with a number of providers over the past 6-8 weeks we have identified some of the most significant challenges they have been facing and put together strategies to assist providers to best manage these.

Staffing

Whether you have been inundated with new service requests or your consumers have chosen to pause their services for a period of time, inevitably your staffing both internal and external has been affected.

Have you considered surveying your current staff both office-based and those providing direct care services? This allows you to understand:

  • their current availabilities but also how many additional hours they would be willing to work if needed
  • whether they have been or may be adversely affected by COVID-19 or the restrictions in place (for example parents who may need to take time off to home-school their children)
  • whether they are within any high risk groups such as aged over 65, immunocompromised, respiratory conditions etc
  • whether they have additional skills, qualifications or experience that may be useful in other areas of the organisation

The better you can understand the current situation for all staff within your organisation the better equipped you will be should you need to make rapid changes or offer support.

In relation to staffing availability, it is also equally as important to have a contingency plan should your demand out-way your capacity. Do you have established relationships already with staffing/recruitment providers? If so, have you maintained communication with them to monitor their capacity and how quickly they may be able to help should you need their support? You may also need to consider engaging with other providers and local and private district hospitals. As a last resort, you then have the option of utilising the support offered by the Government to access a ‘surge workforce’ through the online platform Mable. This initiative is in place to help providers if they are unable to fill critical skills because of infection or staff must self-isolate.

Lastly, having a confident and capable workforce in such a changing landscape can be challenging for any provider. Therefore, ensuring your staff remain up to date with all training is critically important. Its important to note we aren’t just referring to COVID-19/Infection Control specific training either. Through the Australian Government’s COVID-19 Learner Portal a variety of topics are covered including Outbreak Management, Personal Care, PPE, Infection Control but also Supporting Older Australian’s, Indigenous Health, Families and Visitors and many more. While safety and health is at the forefront of your minds as aged care providers, the rights and wellbeing of consumers remains equally as important therefor ensuring staff remain trained in how best to accommodate for both will ensure you remain complaint through this challenging time.

Continuity (and Outbreak) Planning

When faced with a significant incident or crisis (such as a worldwide pandemic) having a continuity plan for your business ensures you not only make plans for how you can prepare for, but also continue to operate after the incident/crisis passes.

Aged care providers understand that this pandemic will pass however as we all question what the ‘new normal’ will look like, having a plan will allow you to feel confident and reassured that you will be able to weather this storm.

Many experienced providers are likely to have a historic Business Continuity Plan however given these are usually reviewed in a time of crisis, now is the time to re-open this and review its relevance for COVID-19.
For less established provides who haven’t been through a critical incident or crisis such as COVID-19, you are unlikely to have developed a Business Continuity Plan yet, and that’s ok. The important thing is to get started as soon as possible with your planning now.

Your Business Continuity Plan should include items such as:

  • Your business details and planning/response approach
  • Your COVID-19 Response Team and Key Contacts
  • A comprehensive COVID-19 Risk Assessment and Review
  • Your strategies for communication, training, staffing, financial viability, property and infrastructure
  • Your staged approach to your response plan including preparation and prevention, closure of non-essential services and what to do should a staff member of consumer be infected
  • Outbreak management plans
  • Your Recovery approaches

Should you require support with a Business Continuity Plan, Amergin currently have a complimentary COVID-19 Response Kit that contains a comprehensive template for business continuity planning in addition to a variety of other useful templates and resources.

Connection

As providers work to manage service provision and ‘business as usual’ processes it is likely many have moved to a work-from-home model (or remotely in some way).

Staying connected with your staff when you are physically apart can be a challenge at the best of times, let alone during a worldwide pandemic.

There are a variety of ways you can help provide reassurance and connection to your staff during this time:

Virtual Connection

The use of Slack, Google Hangouts, Zoom or Remotion allows for a virtual connection with as many staff as required. Consider brief 15-minute daily catch ups over coffee each morning as your team starts their day. This doesn’t need to be formal as it recreates that ‘arriving at work’ feeling many enjoy in the staff room around the coffee machine. Alternatively Microsoft Teams can be used for a variety of communications; from formal Management Team decision making, to Mental Health and Wellbeing content sharing. The private ‘Chat’ function also allows staff to reach out to each other at any time and avoid email inboxes filling up.

Acknowledge and Give Thanks

Publishing an acknowledgment or sharing an electronic Thank You card across your virtual communication platform/s allows you to say thanks to team members for helping out, doing an amazing job or acknowledge when they demonstrate how they meet your organisations values or mission. When workloads are either increasing or job roles feeling uncertain, these moments of positivity have the capacity to boost morale and brightens someone’s day.

Share Accomplishments and Wow Moments

Similar to giving thanks; spending time as a team to share and celebrate victories or ‘wow’ moments can energise your staff and further promote connectivity as a group. Often staff may not feel they have achieved a great deal (although they’ve been incredibly busy), however once your team start celebrating even the simple things (such as getting out of their active/loungewear at least for 1 day this week) you will be surprised by the positivity and what the group has to share.

As you work through the challenges (and they are ever changing!) at this time; remember the supportive community you also have around you. Now more than ever it is important to reach out and connect with other aged care providers in your area. You may be surprised to hear they are experiencing the same or similar ups and downs that you are and now is the time to share how you are overcoming these together.

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