Working together to protect vulnerable communities during COVID
This year many of Australia’s most vulnerable communities have been hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. With many wanting to get back to how life was before COVID, for people with disability, the elderly and people in vulnerable communities, the risk remains high.
At times, governments have been slow to respond to protect our most vulnerable, and service providers have been left unsupported. However, by joining forces and working closely with clients, families, our staff and industry colleagues, there is more hope for the future than before.
Achieve Australia’s early response
Despite a lack of early intervention in the disability sector from governments and regulators, Achieve Australia was quick to respond. “In the early days of COVID, we didn’t have much direction or guidance as a sector,” says Chief Operating Officer at Achieve Australia, Daniel Kyriacou. “We had to adapt quickly, take action and respond as best we could to protect the people we support.”
And respond quickly we did. Achieve was one of the first disability or aged care organisations in the country to set up a 24/7 on-call nursing support team to respond to outbreaks, and took immediate action to close sites at high risk of transmission.
In addition, the team:
- assembled an internal COVID working party
- created detailed COVID response plans, policies and procedures
- purchased Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) with no additional funding
- provided additional training for staff in infection control and the use of PPE
- adopted new workforce and rostering strategies
- collaborated and communicated openly with clients, families and carers at each individual site.
Achieve Australia’s COVID-19 response plan has also helped to support other service providers. Since the start of the pandemic, Achieve have been meeting regularly with disability and aged care organisations from across the country to:
- share knowledge, training and resources
- explore learnings
- discuss best practice
- distribute policies and procedures
- assist smaller providers
“It’s really important that we share our knowledge, learnings and expertise with our colleagues in the sector,” says Daniel. “In particular, it’s vital that we learn from what’s happening in Victoria with the second wave.”
Important lessons for the future
The widespread impact of the second wave of COVID on Victoria has left many asking if more could have been done to protect our most vulnerable communities. Daniel says that across the nation we had the chance in between the first and second wave to get better prepared, but we didn’t take it.
“During the lull, we should have had stronger requirements for providers to stock Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), train staff in infection control, and submit detailed first response plans to possible outbreaks.”
“We also should have established critical response teams across Australia that were not only auditing providers’ readiness, but that also had the ability to support services in an instant,” he went on to say.
Even more importantly, Daniel explains, is that we should have learned from the outbreak at Newmarch House in Sydney, and agreed to a national response to relocate people with COVID to address an outbreak inside a service. Indeed, many working with vulnerable communities agree that more needs to be done.
More being done to protect people with disability
In June, the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability announced a public hearing to investigate the experiences of people with disability during COVID. With people speaking out and sharing their stories, there is hope that more will be done to protect people with disability from the impact of COVID in future.
In addition, the Australian Human Rights Commission has developed the Guidelines on the rights of people with disability in health and disability care during COVID-19. The goal of the guidelines is to assist healthcare, disability services and support workers take a human rights based approach to decision-making during the pandemic.
The information may also be useful for people with disability and their families in understanding their rights. The guidelines are available to download as a PDF or in an accessible Easy Read version from the Commission’s website.
What can we do now?
In many ways, the COVID pandemic is above politics. It does not discriminate. All governments, regulators and service providers have a role to play in working together to protect people with disability and our vulnerable communities.
At an individual level, we can all do our part to help each other by following the advice of medical experts and local authorities. At the same time, isolation and loneliness caused by lockdowns and COVID restrictions is impacting on the wellbeing of our community.
Many families have been unable to visit their loved ones as often as they would like to, or not at all. For this reason, it’s more important than ever to find new ways to keep in touch and to check in to see if family and friends are doing OK. If you, or someone you know, needs extra help or support during this time, reach out to your Achieve Australia contact or call Lifeline on 13 11 14.