Aged care provider peak body, Aged and Community Care Providers Association (ACCPA) are calling on the federal government to increase Australian Defence Force (ADF) support in the aged care sector and further funding for COVID-19 preventions.
Speaking with HelloCare earlier today, ACCPA interim chief executive officer (CEO), Paul Sadler, revealed that the scaling back of ADF support has left only 15 army personnel assisting aged care services while the sector braces itself for increases in COVID-19 outbreaks.
“The ADF have supported 469 aged care services since being involved in early February and the overwhelming feedback from our members is they’ve been really happy with the ADF support,” said Mr Sadler.
“It’s looking highly likely on all projections from the chief health officer down that there will be a significant spike in cases in aged care in the coming four to six weeks. And so, we would certainly be seeking affiliate support to be ramped back up again.”
In addition, Mr Sadler also called upon the government to fund COVID-19 prevention measures like rapid antigen tests (RATs) and personal protective equipment (PPE) which providers are currently covering the costs of.
“The Stuart Brown data recently showed that the unfunded costs of [COVID-19] prevention is contributing to financial difficulties for aged care providers. And so we are urging the government to fund the prevention costs of COVID,” said Mr Sadler.
“At the moment, the only time you can claim those costs is if you actually end up with an outbreak. So if you’re successful at keeping the disease at bay, the government doesn’t reimburse you.
“It’s a little bit of a perverse incentive.”
As of last week, it has been reported that there were 857 COVID-19 outbreaks in aged care facilities across the country. This equates to 31% of all residential aged care facilities.
Mr Sadler warned that rapid transmission of COVID-19 in the community could yield similar or even greater numbers than were seen earlier this January when two-thirds of Australian aged care homes were battling COVID-19 outbreaks.
Despite grim predictions from medical experts, today, New South Wales joined Queensland and Victoria in removing vaccination requirements for aged care visitors.
“It would seem to us unsensible to maintain provisions along that line. So we have written to all of the health ministers across the country, urging them to maintain or reimpose restrictions that are going to assist in keeping a lid on the spread of COVID in aged care.”
While calls to reinstate vaccine mandates for aged care visitors may be growing, a closer examination indicates that vaccine requirements for aged care visitors may not be fit for purpose in their current and previous form.
Of the states which currently have these public health orders in place, the mandate still only requires visitors to have received the initial two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, despite research indicating the efficacy of two COVID-19 vaccines didn’t have enough potency compared to three doses.
With the majority of Australians receiving their first and second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine last year, Mr Sadler agrees that visitors who are yet to have any booster vaccinations and visitors who are completely unvaccinated may actually pose the same risk in aged care settings.
When asked why he felt that state governments were now shying away from health advice, Mr Sadler was candid in his response.
“Politicians of all persuasions throughout this pandemic for two and a half years have vacillated between following the public health advice they get, and trying to avoid putting restrictions on the public that they feel the public will not accept,” said Mr Sadler.