'Tragedy': More aged care residents 'will die'

More aged care residents will die: Victoria issues COVID-19 warning

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'The consequences could not be more grave' warns Victorian Premier as he urges all workers who are sick to stay at home.

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MORE aged care residents will die if people do not stick to COVID-19 guidelines.

That is the grim warning from Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, who has urged the public not to go to work if they're unwell, and to do their bit to stop the deadly virus spread.

"We will see more people die, particularly in aged care," he said. "The consequences could not be more grave."

He said the rise in aged care cases was the "ultimate consquence" of people, including aged care workers, going to work sick.

Mr Andrews was speaking on Monday as the state recorded 532 more COVID-19 cases and six more deaths.

Mr Andrews said five of the six deaths are connected to outbreaks in aged care and included women in their 70s, 80s and 90s and men in their 50s, 70s and 80s.

Victoria's chief health officer Brett Sutton said the "disturbing" numbers of coronavirus cases in the state's nursing homes was a reflection of community transmission levels.

"These are people's parents, grandparents and great-grandparents," he said. "That's an inescapable fact in these settings where there are outbreaks in aged care, that mortality is extremely high."

He warned many more residents in aged care homes will likely die in coming weeks as outbreaks continue to grow, describing it as a "tragedy".

Professor Sutton said most aged care outbreaks have been sparked by one or two workers doing shifts at nursing homes while sick.

Emergency response

The stark warnings come as an emergency response centre has been set up in Victoria, as authorities scramble to tackle alarming infection rates in the state's aged care homes.

The federal and Victorian government-run aged care response centre, based at State Control Centre in Melbourne, has been tasked with overseeing quality control, outbreak prevention and rapid response measures.

The hub draws together the Australian Defence Force, federal and state governments, the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner's team, clinical leaders, geriatric support and emergency management.

Mr Andrews said his government is working with the Commonwealth and the aged care sector to do "everything possible" to control the situation.

This has included transferring residents from aged care into hospital, where appropriate, and working to prevent staff from working across multiple homes.

Professor Sutton said it was "not feasible to move all aged care residents into hospitals".

"There'll be circumstances where residents are looked after right where they are," he said. "That's often especially the case for dementia-affected residents, and the familiarity of those who care for them normally is a really critical point."

Professor Sutton said he would look at how families can play a role in ensuring their loved ones in aged care remain safe.

Federal Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck said the co-ordinated response offered an additional layer of confidence for residents, families and staff.

"Aged care is the biggest risk for us with the current COVID outbreak," he told Seven's Sunrise on Monday.

"It is very much a victim of the community transmission that is going through Victoria at the moment. There are a number of facilities we are extremely concerned about."

Speaking to the ABC, Mr Colbeck said the high infection rate was a "function" of the high community infection rate but agreed the pandemic "has exposed some of the issues we need to deal with".

He said transferring infected residents to hospital would be managed on a case-by-case basis. "If people need to go to hospital, they will go to hospital."

'Dire conditions'

The plea for sick workers to stay at home comes after a national survey found nine out of 10 aged care workers said they could not afford to take unpaid leave.

The survey of more than 1000 aged care workers by the United Workers Union also found 90 per cent of workers surveyed said they are worried their colleagues may have to work if they have mild symptoms because of a lack of leave.

Only 16 per cent said their providers have offered some form of paid pandemic sick leave.

Union aged care director Carolyn Smith said the findings confirmed the "dire conditions" facing aged care workers nationally during the pandemic.

"The public has a right to be very concerned that workers feel unable to take leave if they are suffering minor symptoms because there is no financial safety net for them," she said.

On Tuesday the Fair Work Commission announced casual aged care workers will now be eligible for paid pandemic leave to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The variations will take effect from Wednesday and will remain in effect for three months, the commission said in a ruling released late on Monday.

Many of the recent deaths in Victoria's second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic have been linked to outbreaks at aged care facilities, which prompted the Fair Work Commission to act.

Staff movement

Aged care industry peak body Leading Aged Services Australia said the sector has been working to reduce staff movement since March, but that it wouldn't happen overnight.

Its manager of policy and advocacy Tim Hicks said while extra government support has been announced, the industry is still waiting to see exactly how this will be provided.

"Providers are doing their utmost to reduce staff movement, while ensuring that workers are not disadvantaged, but the top priority will always be to fill shifts to ensure that residents receive the care they need," he said.

Mr Hicks said a support hub, run by LASA and Aged and Community Services Australia, offered support to providers on how to respond to workforce shortages.

"However, minimising staffing movement will be an ongoing effort and is not something that can be achieved overnight," he said.

  • Older Persons COVID-19 Support Line: 1800-171-866.
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