An open letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Health Minister Greg Hunt and Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly:
What exactly is your plan for “living with COVID” in the couple of thousand aged-care homes that are your responsibility?
Events of the past two weeks have shown “living with COVID” is a euphemism for “letting it rip”, so let’s be frank about it: Do you have any plan for letting COVID have its way with the elderly?
“Letting it rip” is quite a problem in the general population as case numbers soar and hospitalisations steadily mount – but it’s another level of difficulty altogether for the third of a million Australians using residential aged care.
Is it your plan to keep them in partial lockdown – strictly limited visits, no children – when there is COVID in the community? (i.e. now and indefinitely, given what is presently known about COVID.)
And if a staff member, resident or visitor should test positive to the virus, will residents continue to be confined to their rooms with no visitors until everyone in the home tests negative twice?
It will be substantially higher again when this week’s total is published. And higher next week and so on.
As the NSW Health Minister’s forecast – “everyone will catch it” – is met, how will that be handled for the aged by your Public Health Unit?
There’s already a crisis in aged care with severely stretched staff.
Indefinitely maintaining your present policy of severe restrictions in homes means present staff numbers will not be enough – and that’s without COVID really cutting loose with multiple cases among elderly residents.
If your plan (assuming you have a plan) is to have aged care “live with COVID” at some stage, the demands on existing staff numbers would become impossible.
There are presently 147,000 direct care workers in residential aged care.
Have you started ramping up your existing fallback of importing carers and nurses yet? If not, why not?
It takes time to raid the healthcare resources of developing countries.
If you haven’t started recruiting yet and facilitating visas, how long will it be before existing staff can expect some relief?
There are some 2700 residential aged-care facilities in Australia, each now required to have one registered nurse present at all times.
If the elderly are to start “living with COVID”, that will not be enough.
If your plan (still assuming there is one) is to not let the virus rip in aged care, to continue to try to exclude it, do you have a duty to inform residents and potential residents of what the remainder of their lives will be like?
What are the chances of respite care being available in homes in the present circumstances?
Are you considering immediately increasing the (low) pay of aged-care workers in an attempt to keep them in what will be an even harder job in 2022 when less-demanding jobs are beckoning elsewhere?
So to summarise with just three key questions:
- Do you have any plan beyond the present attempt by PHUs to keep sticking fingers in leaking dykes as the COVID tide rises?
- How do the residents of aged-care homes “live with COVID”?
- What are your immediate and medium-term plans for adequately staffing residential aged care?