The federal government has ordered all aged care staff who work in nursing homes or provide home care support across Victoria’s lockdown zones wear surgical masks, following new recommendations from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC).
The directive comes as Victoria battles to contain clusters of COVID-19 across dozens of nursing homes, with the worst hit, Menarock Life in Essendon, recording about 30 cases on Monday.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt and Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck announced the new measure, saying Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as masks would be vital in preventing the spread of COVID-19 among Australians living in aged care and protecting staff.
An extra four million masks will be made available to aged care and home care providers in lockdown areas, including Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire, the government said.
Mr Hunt said the latest advice for aged care workers added to infection control and staff screening measures already in place across the aged care sector to fight COVID-19.
“This will immediately assist around 449 residential aged care facilities and 425 home care providers, with a total of 60,427 aged care recipients in these services,” the joint statement said.
Mr Colbeck said further targeted testing would be carried out on aged care residents and staff in facilities within COVID-19 hotspots.
Other support measures would include the deployment of clinical first responders to facilities where outbreaks have been identified, immediate access to emergency response teams in the event of significant outbreaks and access to a surge workforce to help aged care providers if they are unable to fill critical skills due to infection or staff having to self-isolate.
Up to 250,000 surgical masks, 250,000 gowns, 250,000 face shields/goggles and supplies of hand sanitiser will also be provided to services in affected areas.
“With the current surge in COVID-19 cases in Melbourne, there has been a particular emphasis on ensuring additional PPE has been sent to Victoria to ensure aged care workers in that state have access to such equipment,” Minister Colbeck said.
With Victoria in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic and aged care under threat, the ANMF (Vic Branch) has called on the federal government to direct private providers to increase their nursing, personal care, cleaning and support staff numbers following COVID-19 outbreaks across numerous nursing homes.
The union is seeking special paid leave for aged care nurses, carers and other staff forced to self-isolate.
It is also calling for reimbursement for aged care staff who may have to forego shifts at other aged care workplaces where they also work or suggests their primary employer could provide them with additional shits at the workplace to boost care requirements for residents and families.
“Private aged care facilities needed more nurses and more personal care workers to care for residents before the pandemic, they must increase clinical and personal staff now that we have increased community transmission of the virus,” ANMF (Vic Branch) Secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick said.