The announcement that the Federal Government will deploy up to 1,700 Australian Defence Force personnel into nursing homes to alleviate chronic staffing shortages has been welcomed by the aged care sector.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the immediate support through the Department of Health would help stabilise outbreaks.
Defence is readying specialist teams of 50 personnel in the four states experiencing greatest pressure (Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia) from February 9.
"The ADF is not a shadow workforce and cannot replace skilled aged care workers, but they will assist across facilities including logistics and general duties tasks. For example screening of entrants to facilities, providing companionship to residents, supporting with meals and other non-direct care functions to take the pressure off qualified aged care workers and medical staff. Where they are medically qualified, ADF personnel will assist with those duties," said Mr Morrison.
A statement from Australian Aged Care Collaboration, which represents six leading aged care peak bodies, said while the decision to deploy military personnel into nursing homes won't alleviate all of the challenges currently faced by aged care providers, it will make a practical difference on the ground.
Thousands of aged care staff and residents are currently listed as active Covid cases and as of last week almost 1200 facilities had outbreaks - a situation described as a "crisis" by Aged and Community Services chief executive Paul Sadler in a plea for urgent help.
The AACC and unions have called for involvement of the ADF since early this year to try to support providers who are reporting up to a quarter of shifts left vacant due to COVID in aged care homes.
Sector representatives have written to to Ministers Greg Hunt and Richard Colbeck proposing the establishment of a National Aged Care COVID Coordination Centre to provide oversight and control of the COVID response in aged care, using established emergency management approaches.
The Centre would be responsible for planning and supports for the prevention of outbreaks, the management of responses to outbreaks, and the recovery from outbreaks. In practice, the Centre would ensure that services and staff on the frontline in aged care are better prepared for future waves, and not left short of PPE and RAT. And, if surge workforce capacity is exhausted, the Centre can call on the ADF to deploy personnel so that services and standards are maintained.
The AACC is continuing to press the government for:
- Appropriate payments for aged care workers that reflect their additional effort and risks as they do all they can to keep residents and clients safe from COVID19
- Better surge workforce arrangements to ensure quality and services are maintained in the current and future COVID19 waves
- Funding to cover the increased costs providers are incurring in implementing measures to protect residents, clients and staff
- Reliable supplies and more efficient distribution of RATs and PPE
- Better data on infections and vaccinations so risks can be better managed.