Feb 01, 2021

It’s compulsory to wear masks in WA’s aged care homes again. Do they have enough PPE stockpiled?

On Sunday afternoon, Western Australia’s premier announced the state would go into lockdown from 6pm that day after a quarantine hotel worker contracted COVID-19, possibly the highly contagious strain.

Despite having not had any community transmission of COVID-19 for 10 months, the premier Mark McGowan announced wide-ranging restrictions: Western Australians must stay home except for essential travel; pubs, clubs and gyms are closed; and restaurants and cafes can only serve takeaway.

In the affected areas of Perth, Pell and the South-West corner of the state, visitors to aged care homes are banned, except in exceptional circumstances, and masks must be worn at all times by aged care workers. 

Aged care homes have adapted immediately. 

Visitor restrictions have been put in place. Virtual methods of communication have been introduced to help residents remain connected to loved ones. Staff are donning masks, and additional activities have been arranged to keep residents entertained.

This adaptability is something aged care homes, and indeed us all, are getting used to now. In a world with COVID-19, situations can turn on a dime, regulations can change dramatically, sometimes within hours, as in Western Australia this week.

Such changes put intense pressure on aged care management, staff, and residents, though all adapt with goodwill, prepared to do whatever it takes to protect residents who are so vulnerable to the devastating virus.

The snap call for new rules also puts pressure on resources, and we have read on our social media pages about a lack of masks to meet the sudden spike in demand.

The discussion about masks led HelloCare to ask if aged care homes have enough PPE stockpiled to ramp up usage when requirements change suddenly, in this case within a matter of hours, and across a wide geographic area, affecting a large number of aged care homes.

Most providers have two weeks’ supply

LASA CEO Sean Rooney told HelloCare, “The WA Department of Health has made wearing of masks by aged care staff mandatory during the COVID lockdown period.” 

Visitors must also wear masks into aged care homes, when they are permitted in, he said.

However, Rooney said providers have not had any problems accessing masks, or other PPE.

“LASA is not aware of providers having difficulty accessing PPE supplies in Western Australia at this point in time,” he said.

“We understand that most [Western Australian aged care providers] have a minimum two-week supply of PPE to deal with a potential outbreak,” he explained. 

Larger providers have told LASA they have “large capacity” for deploying PPE, including masks, face shields, gowns and gloves. 

If stockpiles in aged care homes are depleted, LASA says the State Government has its own stockpile which all aged care homes can draw from, and there is also a national supply. 

The Department of Health website states that when a commercial supply is unavailable, PPE can be sourced from the National Medical Stockpile.

Those “working in higher-risk clinical areas, and with higher risk vulnerable patients” can also access masks from Primary Health Networks.

WA police commissioner, Chris Dawson, said there is a “large supply” of masks available, but acknowledged that having everyone suddenly required to wear masks is “a big adjustment”.

What can you do if stockpiles run low?

The threat of COVID-19 skirmishes will remain hanging over us for months, with the Australian population only expected to be fully vaccinated by the end of the year, all going well.

COVID-19 has a knack of breaking out of any restrictions we use to try to confine it, and with new, more contagious strains now spreading, outbreaks could become even more likely.

Let’s hope the stockpiles being built up in aged care homes are enough, and that the practice is consistent among all homes. Let’s hope the comments we saw on our pages are the exception.

LASA is encouraging any aged care providers experiencing PPE shortages to contact the WA Department of Health 13COVID (13 26843) or the national supply chain through PHNs at the following link

Is your home experiencing PPE shortages during the WA lockdown?

Image: fever pitched, iStock

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