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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Sink or swim: Leonard’s professionalism, care and efficiency the perfect disaster response

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Michelle Leonard’s house was completely inundated by the recent Queensland floods, but she had little time to worry about her personal affairs.

Leonard, you see, is general manager of My Home Care Group’s Brisbane operation, which has its offices in Oxley, one of the worst hit regions. Her urgent priority was the lives of the people in her care.   

She tells Aged Care News that with her vulnerable clients in mind, her team instantly activated their emergency management plan, with aims to ensure everyone is accounted for, with some triaging needed to assess where resources are needed first.

“It’s our responsibility to make sure that all of our clients are safe … so our job was to make sure that they had essential services, such as personal care, medication, catheter care, wound care, and things like that; it was essential that we made sure that those services could be delivered.”

Leonard notes that a proactive strategy was necessary to ascertain the status of each client, as not all of the elders in the company’s care have the capacity to do so themselves.

“These people can live with family members, but sometimes they don’t,” she says.

“Sometimes, they’re totally independent in their own home … and some of those care recipients that are living at home are actually living with dementia, so to be able to independently manage a situation like this is certainly not in their scope of cognitive ability.”

Having clearly detailed records with emergency contacts are vital to ensuring they are accounted for when disaster hits, particularly for those clients with dementia.

But in the event a person does not have any family support, she notes, “we would certainly look at whether we can get them into respite or something like that”.

Michelle Leonard, Brisbane-region general manager for My Home Care Group, says that activation of the company’s emergency management plan allowed for continuity of care, despite the barriers caused by the flooding crisis.

Strategic partnerships and collaboration vital

Leonard says that the use of brokered partners and readiness to adapt rosters and switch to supplementary workforces was vital in maintaining continuity of care for clients cut off from their usual in-home aged care workers.  

“We utilised not only our own staff, but we partnered with other organisations in the area,” she says.

“There might be, say, four or five streets in an area that’s totally isolated from everybody else, so we looked and asked ‘do we have any clients in that area?’ Yes, we do. ‘Do we have staff in that area?’ Yes, we do.

Thus rosters were rearranged to ensure clients had continued access to a worker.

“If we didn’t have a staff member in that area, I worked with some of our other service providers in our local area to identify if they had staff that could go in and provide that service on our behalf and vice versa,” Leonard notes.

“The other thing that we did do – or that was vitally important – is we had a team that we worked with that would call every single client in the affected regions.  

If we didn’t have a staff member in that area, I worked with some of our other service providers in our local area to identify if they had staff that could go in and provide that service on our behalf and vice versa

My Home Care Group Brisbane general manager, Michelle Leonard

“It was a moving dynamic for the whole five days, basically started up around Maryborough, Gympie and slowly moving down to Sydney.”

Each of the care managers and assistant care managers were allocated a list of clients to call, identifying their level of risk and acute need through a detailed checklist, including questions such as:

  • Are you still at home?
  • Are there floodwaters in your area?
  • Have those flood-waters isolated you?
  • Do you have power?
  • Do you have water?
  • Do you have internet?

Having a national network also strengthened Leonard’s ability to adapt to power outages in her flooded Oxley offices.

“Our IT team were ready and waiting: if we lost power and internet, they were ready to divert all our phones down to New South Wales or to Western Australia.

“I think that’s one of the benefits of a national team … it gives you some resilience, it gives you some power… you’ve got that plan B, C, and D, which is essential when you’re looking after people with such high needs.”

Checking in with workers part of duty of care

Looking after staff wellbeing in such a precarious time was paramount.

With between 20 and 40 workers on the road at any given time, Leonard says systems were in place to ensure each worker was accounted for, daily.

“We would send them out constant reminders, texts, saying, ‘if it’s flooded, forget it’.

the aftermath is about making sure that, mentally, they’re OK, and if we need to change their homecare package services, so that they do get a little bit of social support, or mental health support, that’s what we’ll be making sure that we do.

Michelle Leonard

“We would remind them to keep us in contact with where they were, and if they couldn’t get through, just let us know.

“But we also put in place that, at the end of each day, they would text in to let us know that they’d arrived home safely, just so we could tick them off … and could reconcile at the end of the day that everyone’s home; everyone’s safe.”

Providers should adapt packages to facilitate post-trauma care

“These floods have had a devastating effect on these communities, especially our elderly… some of these people were also affected by 2011 and 2017 floods, and they’re still fresh in their mind.”

“So, the aftermath is about making sure that, mentally, they’re OK, and if we need to change their homecare package services, so that they do get a little bit of social support, or mental health support, that’s what we’ll be making sure that we do.

Eighty-nine-year-old My Home Care Group client Patricia Kimber and her daughter Tanya, also Oxley locals, were caught up in the floods, their family home partially submerged (our detailed story on their plight is available, via this link).

After temporarily relocating to Pat’s son’s house 40 minutes away, My Home Care Group has redeployed workers to the new address to continue Pat’s Level 4 care, which primarily looks after her daily hygiene and safety while Tanya is at work.

But Leonard says she is open to providing whatever additional assistance is necessary in support of both Pat’s and Tanya’s psychological recovery.

“It is just about that resilience, making sure that we’re being flexible to meet the needs of clients.

“Those needs might be that Pat and Tanya need to go back to the house, and it might be that they just want to sit out the front – and we’re quite happy to provide that support.”

My Home Care Group is the largest home care provider in the country, overseeing ten different brands which service 21,000 older Australians across the country.

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