Feb 06, 2023

Hands-on COVID-19 training necessary to avoid complacency

Three years after the COVID-19 pandemic first swept across the globe, infection prevention and control remain a key focus for aged care providers in light of widespread pandemic fatigue. 

The summer COVID-19 peak has again left a lasting impact on aged care residents, families and staff as Australia passed 5,000 COVID-19-related deaths in aged care – 5,065 as of 3 February.

It is a sobering statistic and a reminder to remain vigilant around the most vulnerable members of the population despite the consensus that the world is moving towards a post-pandemic state.

Michael Page, Clinical Facilitator at Uniting Communities, understands that as the general perception of COVID-19 shifts it is easy for complacency to set in throughout aged care, but he warned providers to stay focused on keeping staff prepared.

“Regularly and sporadically go and check how it’s [COVID-19 management plans] actually being done on the floor and in reality,” said Mr Page.

“Question and ask people to paraphrase back or to demonstrate their understanding, not just in teaching sessions, but in the flow of work and the reality of what they do every day.

“It’s about continual training, spaced and repetitious learning, going back and checking that people are still doing what they’re doing and just involving them and appealing to their motivations.

“First and foremost it’s about keeping our residents safe but it’s also about keeping yourself healthy and safe and not taking it home to your families.”

Like all providers, the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to challenge staff at Uniting Communities; their two South Australian facilities have just returned to a COVID-free state after outbreaks occurred across the Christmas period.

But following successful recovery stints, their staff have been able to adopt some pre-pandemic luxuries – no longer having to wear masks constantly.

“Last week was the first week where we’ve come out of wearing facemasks routinely in the home,” said Mr Page.

“When we provide care and can’t socially distance our staff always wear personal protective equipment (PPE) but it’s effectively the first time in three years that even our admin and office staff are not having to wear facemasks routinely.

“If there’s an outbreak we have to wear full PPE, put it on and off multiple times, 50, 60, 70 times a day, you have to encourage staff to maintain hydration because they can become very dehydrated.”

With a heightened awareness of COVID-19 and other potentially infectious diseases – including the seasonal influenza virus – the early challenges for COVID-19 have paved the way for major learnings even after three years.

There is a need to reinforce knowledge through hands-on training and drills and Mr Page said it is always a benefit to learn from past experiences.

“We have learnt a lot from real-life experience and we learnt as we went along with the outbreaks changing from Delta to Omicron. You had to be adaptable because there was no one size fits all approach,” said Mr Page.

“Every aged care home is different, even within organisations, and COVID-19 reacts and responds in different ways to different environments.

“So for education and training, you have to provide real-life examples continually. 

“Doing online training and merely checking whether people can put on and take off PPE is not sufficient. It is helpful, but it’s not sufficient on its own.”

One reason for the use of real-life examples is the forgetting curve – the scenario where people often forget things due to a lack of repetition or interest, and the natural fact that new information is often forgotten right after it was first taught.

As a result, Mr Page continues to challenge staff with critical thinking exercises and opportunities to explain themselves on the floor as a test of their information-retention skills.

“As soon as you think you’re out of the woods, COVID-19 will come back and hit us, and we have to be ready for another outbreak or potentially a new strain that works in a different way,” said Mr Page.

“We have to keep doing the drills, the on-floor questioning of staff and asking them to paraphrase solutions if a certain situation or scenario occurred.

“What would you do, what would you do if the registered nurse wasn’t there, what would you do if there’s no senior management on site? 

“We need to ensure that as many people as possible are able to put the outbreak management plan into effect.”

What training techniques are used at your workplace to keep COVID-19 prevention knowledge up-to-date? Tell us in the comments below!

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