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Thursday, June 30, 2022

Health dept offers tips for aged care facility winter readiness

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The upcoming winter season is likely to see an increase in respiratory illnesses circulating at the same time, including COVID-19 variants and influenza, the health department acknowledges.

To help prepare ahead, the Department is providing practical advice on actions your facility can implement now to ready your service to lessen the risks and impacts of any outbreaks. This will include a series of free webinars (details below).

Readiness activities will position your service to be able to respond quickly in the event of an outbreak of COVID-19 or influenza, and any other illness.

A key to readiness is making sure you understand the key risk factors to incorporate in your planning and adapting responses to meet your local requirements.

Vaccination also remains one of the most effective protective factors for COVID-19 and influenza.

Making sure you have put in the necessary arrangements early to offer vaccinations and boosters to your residents and staff, will help to minimise potential outbreaks and severity of disease.

Things to do now

The practical recommendations below include actions that you might already be doing or can be starting now to ready your service.

Review and update your outbreak management plan and test it through scenario-based activities:

  • talk to your staff about the plan, how to activate it, and about their roles and responsibilities;
  • talk to others outside your organisation who have a role in your plan, such as general practitioners and pharmacists;
  • incorporate opportunities to improve existing arrangements.

Understand and document how to manage cases of influenza or residents presenting with influenza-like illness, noting responsibility for managing influenza outbreaks rests with the provider.

Assess the vaccination status of all your residents and staff:

  • talk with your residents, their families and carers, and staff about the importance and safety of having COVID-19 boosters and annual influenza vaccinations, including receiving them at the same time;
  • obtain the necessary consents and offer opportunities to be vaccinated;
  • assist your in-home and community care recipients and workers to understand how they can access COVID-19 and influenza vaccinations.

Refresh and reinforce your infection prevention and control practices, including staff and leadership training:

Make sure you have sufficient essential supplies in stock so that you can respond quicky and effectively to an outbreak, including personal protective equipment (PPE); Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) kits and antivirals for both COVID-19 and influenza:

  • pre deployment of PPE will commence Monday April 11;
  • remember to maintain your standard PPE supply through your existing commercial channel. Requests thought the COVID-19 portal are only for additional PPE to support during an outbreak.

Review your workforce management plan so you have options for sourcing surge workforce if you need it:

  • remember you may need to replace all types of staff: personal care workers, kitchen and cleaning, administration and management staff;
  • make sure you have a plan on how to rotate surge workforce and who will supervise these staff, if required.

Have a plan which provides advice on how treatment will be managed:

  • have a plan to assess each resident’s suitability for oral antiviral treatments in the event of a confirmed COVID result or influenza-like symptoms;
  • the necessary consents for giving a treatment;
  • primary care arrangements are in place, such as telehealth, in the event of an influenza or COVID-19 outbreak to support clinical care and treatment of residents.

Have an emergency plan in place for all in-home care and community care recipients.

  • staff should be aware of these plans and be able to implement if regular care staff or care recipients are affected by COVID-19 or influenza.

Have strategies in place to inform staff, residents, families and communities of your service’s strategy for managing winter infections.

Continue to report COVID-19 outbreaks to the Department of Health through the COVID-19 Support Portal. Reporting flu infections is not required.

Readiness for your staff and volunteers

Talk to your staff and volunteers about:

  • Being up to date with their COVID-19 vaccine and booster and about how you are facilitating access to free flu vaccination.
  • The winter COVID-19 dose program for eligible workers who are vulnerable. Provide advice on where to access these doses.
  • Receiving the flu and COVID-19 vaccines on the same day at the same appointment, through their GP, pharmacy or in-reach provider. Co-vaccination is safe as per clinical advice.
  • Maintaining good IPC standards. This includes refreshing IPC training and correctly wearing personal protective equipment to keep your workplace and colleagues safe.
  • Clarifying their role in your outbreak management plan, workforce plan, and receiving and storing essential supplies.

Readiness for your residents and their families and carers

Talk to your residents and their families and carers about:

  • The importance of vaccination in protecting against COVID-19 and influenza in terms of serious health impacts in older people.
  • Available options to be vaccinated against both illnesses, the safety of receiving both vaccines and the consent process.
  • The winter COVID-19 dose program, which is free for residents and can be administered on-site.
  • The influenza vaccine which is also free if you are aged 65 years or older, under the National Immunisation Program (NIP).
  • How they can access vaccinations through their GP, pharmacy (NB: Pharmacy can’t administer NIP vaccines in some states) or in-reach providers.
  • Available treatments for COVID-19 and influenza and how they are administered.
  • Visiting and any screening requirements to keep loved ones protected.

Winter preparedness webinar series

The health department is hosting a series of free webinars to help aged care providers to prepare for, respond to and recover from outbreaks.

The first webinar, focussing on readiness will be on: Wednesday, April 13 from 11am to 12pm (AEST).

The session will include a moderated Q&A session with Departmental officials along with the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner, we invite you to submit questions in advance when you register to attend.

Two further webinars are being planned.

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