45 families step up to volunteer at nursing home amid staff crisis

Families volunteer at Noosa nursing home
Fiona Horner (left) assists almost daily around the aged care home. Meanwhile, resident Jill Shaw (inset) believes the assistance "makes a tremendous difference", particularly as she has no family nearby.

The deployment of Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel to Australian aged care residences, dubbed Operation Aged Care, has begun but it is not the only way some facilities are receiving help. 

Tasked with assisting facilities slammed by staffing shortages due to COVID-19, Defence Force staff are set to make a difference. However, one aged care residence recently brainstormed its own unique response.

A Current Affair reports that the management of Noosa Care, located on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, made an urgent call to loved ones of their residents, asking if any would be willing to volunteer their time to assist day-to-day operations after the Omicron wave had passed.

Noosa Care CEO Megan D’Elton was astonished with the response. 

Fiona Horner shares how she assists almost daily around the Noose aged care home her mum Jeanette resides in.

“They are in need, they are really crying out for help. It’s been a stressful two years for these guys,” Ms Horner details.

From doing the washing to finishing off the dishes, family volunteers are able to pitch in across many areas to help ease the pressure off staff.

Jo Cunningham describes how she is able to come alongside other residents for a walk when her own mother, Mary, 102, is resting.  

Ms Cunningham says, “Mum’s been in that lodge for 15 years, so I know everyone that’s in there.”

Jill Shaw believes the assistance “makes a tremendous difference”, particularly as she has no family nearby.

She believes the system the facility has running is safe, as family volunteers have their temperature checked and undergo a rapid antigen test every day.

As there are no current positive cases at the Noosa Care facility, volunteers only have to wear a face mask but must refrain from hugging their parents.

Stark difference between aged care residences

Unfortunately, not all facilities are fairing like Noosa Care. In Sydney’s west, St Sergius Aged Care in Cabramatta has seen 23 residents pass away after a positive COVID test.

The ability to see a loved one in the home is currently very limited.

Nada describes how her mum, 91, has been at St Sergius for seven years, and after months of not seeing her, Tuesday was the day she got to visit after her mother recovered from COVID-19.

Sadly, in a different situation, Olga Matyas conveys how she is unable to visit a friend who is having a hard time within lockdown.

“She is crying, ‘Oh, I want to see you … I don’t have anybody else’,” Ms Matyas details.

ADF set to help

As of Tuesday, ADF personnel readied to be deployed across the nation into nursing residences.

At the Gallipoli Barracks in Brisbane, soldiers were being instructed on how to correctly wear PPE.

Private Jessica Fitzsimon says she looks forward to assisting, after supporting with COVID-19 swabbing in Melbourne two years ago, and the vaccine drive in NSW in 2021. 

Rear admiral Robert Plath, who has been chosen to command the COVID-19 task force, details how teams will be deployed across the nation in aged care facilities, and subsequently will be split into teams made up of nursing and general duty personnel.

“The bulk of our people though will be just general duties, sailors, soldiers and aviators,” Rear Admirable Plath outlines.

“They’ll go in to do more administrative and logistics tasks, that hopefully will free up other clinical staff,” he adds.

Back in Noosa, the volunteer families believe bringing in the troops is a good move, however, many highlight that it hasn’t come soon enough.

Luci Larubina of Melbourne lost her father early on in the pandemic, and she doesn’t believe that the appropriate amount of help was provided to aged care homes from the start.

“We’re in the third year of a pandemic and they still are stuffing things up,” Ms Larubina says, exasperated.

The system is set up so that only those requesting assistance will receive ADF personnel. At this stage, with so many families of the residents volunteering, Noosa Care isn’t expected to receive them.

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