Visiting aged care homes on the Sunshine Coast has tightened up in some centres as an expert calls for more protection to those most vulnerable.
Visiting aged care homes on the Sunshine Coast has tightened up in some centres as an expert calls for more protection to those most vulnerable.

Fears grow for Coast aged care: Expert’s warning

The man who co-ordinated Victoria's emergency health response for its aged care outbreaks has issued Sunshine Coast facilities with a dire warning.

Dr Ian Norton recently returned from the southern state where he oversaw the recovery process of the aged care crisis.

The expert for the World Health Organisation said the Coast's attention must be turned to our own "vulnerable" aged care facilities.

Dr Norton, who was in the middle of his mandatory quarantine period, said he hoped the region's aged care services would "take lessons" from Victoria.

"I am worried about aged care homes on the Sunshine Coast," Dr Norton said.

"I am hoping the state takes some lessons on what happened down there.

"The next few weeks should be spent to put the systems in place should there be an outbreak."

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Dr Norton pointed to 767 Victorian aged care facilities who, in response to a survey, said they thought they were "well-prepared" to handle the coronavirus pandemic.

"150 of those homes were infected. That will tell the perception of what needs to be done and the reality, there may be a gap," he said.

Dr Norton stressed this was a "one in a 100-year" pandemic.

"It's beyond anyone's experience," he said.

"Down in Victoria, staff were being asked to isolate but the people left had no knowledge of how to run the centres.

"There were whole wings left without staff, the patients without food or water.

"We can't afford to have that up here, so we need to plan ahead to look after those most vulnerable."

A survival guide for the COVID-19 pandemic

One of the region's largest aged care facilities, Sundale, outlined some of the precautionary processes it had put in place over the past few months should the "unthinkable" happen.

Sundale CEO Danielle Mackenzie said some of the processes included "mock" outbreaks and "step-by-step" guides to dealing with positive cases.

"Preparations included a mock outbreak at each of Sundale's care centres. The simulation exercise allowed site managers to implement their COVID-19 Outbreak Response Plans," Ms Mackenzie said.

"In the event of a positive test, Sundale's Coast sites will be able to access a 48-hour COVID-19 specific PPE kit within one hour of notification.

"Sundale has created the plan which includes a step-by-step guide of what to do following the identification of a positive case.

"The COVID-19 Response Plan also has a comprehensive checklist, which Sundale will follow in the event of a positive COVID-19 case."

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She said Sundale had established stand-alone infection control locations in the event some care recipients required to be completely isolated.

"These locations are stocked with all the necessary equipment to appropriately manage an outbreak," she said.

"Sundale has engaged with its workforce and identified team members with relevant skill sets who are willing to assist on the front line in the event of an outbreak."

COVID-19 test results revealed after care facility lockdown

Dr Norton's concerns come less than two weeks after the Immanuel Aged Care facilities went into lockdown after patients presented symptoms of the virus.

The three returned negative tests.

A Queensland Health spokesperson said the department was committed to protecting the most vulnerable from the virus, which included working alongside federal counterparts, who are primarily responsible for aged care.

"Queensland is very well-prepared and has strict processes in place to minimise and manage any potential outbreak in an aged care setting to ensure the health and safety of all residents and staff," the spokesperson said.

As part of updates to the Aged Care Direction which came into effect from August 11, a number of additional safety measures were put in place, including:

  • A recommendation that all residential aged care facility operators limit their staff working across multiple facilities as much as possible
  • A requirement that any residential aged care facility employees, contractors or volunteers who work across multiple facilities must wear a single-use surgical face mask when in the facility
  • The ability for an emergency health officer to give a direction to an individual facility
  • In addition, due to recently announced cases in Queensland last week, extra restrictions were put in place for residential aged care facilities in listed Local Government Areas on August 22, which has additional restrictions for visitors, residents and staff