Aged care remains Australia’s most vulnerable pressure point as Melbourne worker contracts COVID-19

Aged care remains Australia’s most vulnerable societal pressure point, as an aged care worker at a facility in Melbourne has been diagnosed with COVID-19, sending the home into lockdown. Contact tracers have not yet been able to link the aged care worker to an existing case, and Acting Premier James Merlino says it is still “too early” to know how the cases may affect the easing of restrictions, with 11 new cases on Monday morning. This brings the current Victorian outbreak up to 50.

Through 30 May, there have been 2051 COVID-19 government-subsidised aged care residents infected by COVID-19, of whom 685 (exactly one-third) have died, clearly the most vulnerable group. Of that number, all but 63 cases were in Victoria, although 28 aged care residents have died in New South Wales (out of 61 infections), 1 in Queensland and 1 in Tasmania. In addition, as of late February, 2,227 aged care staff had been infected, all of whom have recovered (the current Victorian case is additional) in 215 different facilities. There have been no active aged care facility cases since October 2020, until this week.

Since the commencement of the pandemic, there have been 30,098 cases and 910 deaths in Australia.

“Look at the stated public concerns about the extremely rare AstraZeneca vaccine side effects. If 685 Australian young people had died from COVID-19 or another other preventable illness last year, we would regard it as a national tragedy,” said Dr Don Perlgut, CEO of Community Colleges Australia.

“It is easy to lose perspective on that tragedy when Australia today has the second-lowest death rate for the coronavirus in the G20 after China. But those 655 [Victorian] aged-care fatalities still represent one of our greatest public policy disasters of the postwar era. They exceeded the combined death toll from 13 years of war in Vietnam, 20 years in Afghanistan and 10 years in Iraq,” writes George Megalogenis in the Sydney Morning Herald.

“This is the nightmare we thought we’d never see again,” said Dr Norman Swan, on ABC TV’s 7.30 Report. He and interviewee Professor Kathy Eager detailed the implications of the delayed vaccinations in aged care facilities.

“One of the main ways [aged care] providers make do is by employing too few, unskilled, casual, part-time staff, who often need to do shifts at multiple sites. Do you think this has no connection with the sad truth that the great majority of deaths during Victoria’s second lockdown occurred in aged care?” asks Ross Gittins in the Sydney Morning Herald.

“The Royal Commission into Aged Care provided a devastating critique into Australia’s aged care system, workforce, care and training. Despite our achievements in preventing wide-scale infection, this week’s news from Melbourne shows how vulnerable our aged care sector still is, and how most of us can still contract COVID-19,” said Dr Perlgut.

“The Australian adult and community education (ACE) providers are some of the most important – and possibly the best quality – providers of aged care training in our country. One means of ensuring the quality of future aged care services is to make certain that ACE providers do as much of the training as possible,” Dr Perlgut said.

CCA National ACE Summit to Focus on Aged Care Training

CCA’s National 2021 ACE Summit – in Sydney and online, 29 June 2021 – will broaden the knowledge of the national ACE sector, and showcase its community-based, innovative programs and pathways that can help governments succeed in meeting Australia’s economic, employment and social challenges. The aged care workforce will be one of the two focus areas of the Summit, along foundation skills.

Read CCA’s summary and analysis of the May Commonwealth Budget aged care training initiatives.

Aged care speakers include Emma Gleeson, Assistant Secretary, Aged Care Workforce Branch, Australian Government Department of Health; and Yasmin King, CEO, SkillsIQ.


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