The long term impact of COVID-19 on Care Organisations
Undoubtedly, the care sector has been one of the hardest hit industries throughout the COVID-19 crisis due to the vulnerability of residents and clients. In fact, while those aged 70 and over may not represent the greatest number of cases according the Australian Government Department of Health data, this susceptible aged group is over-represented for fatalities from this virus1. Furthermore, these daily statistics also show a substantial number of cases within residential care and home care services, which has also been highly publicised in the media during the height of the pandemic.
In an industry already under stress due to the Aged Care Royal Commission and the introduction of Aged Care Quality Standards, the COVID-19 pandemic has created further challenges. Inevitably, many of the risk factors that have become apparent throughout COVID-19 for care organisations stretch far beyond infection control. However, in a reflection of the response plan adopted by many care facilities, organisations that focus on community are responding well. While some facilities may have struggled in the beginning from a lack of guidance or a narrow focus on one risk area, organisations that adopted a holistic risk management approach, in which they considered the impact of other risks such as workforce, have thrived.
Whilst there is an increasing sentiment that home care is safer than residential care, there are many workforce issues that need to be considered, which may mean that this is not necessarily true.
In fact, many employees within the industry are casual, with National Disability Services (NDS), Australian Disability Workforce Report reporting that casual work accounts for almost half (42%) of all workers2. Meanwhile, statistics from the Parliament of Australia demonstrates that in August 2019, there were over 1.8 million casual workers within the hospital, medical, residential care and other health care services3.
This strong rate of casualisation, could have a profound liability impact for facilities , and this was particularly seen in the case of COVID-19. This means that many aged care staff may have multiple positions both within the residential and home care environments, potentially increasing the spread of communicable diseases including COVID-19.
This could have some drawbacks, with some employees experiencing reduced hours or loss of work, as employers look to minimise the risks. NSW Health have provided guidelines around strategies for staff who may work across multiple areas in the care setting, including using allocated rostering and control practices.
The complications that come with casualisation could also proliferate retention issues, with the Australian Financial Review stating that the industry faces a 20% turnover rate as nurses opt for better paying sectors4. While many employees within the sector are not in it for the money, keeping staff through remuneration programs and training could boost morale throughout what has been a stressful and challenging time. The government has also released their Retention Bonus Scheme to help reward nurses and ensure they remain in their places of work, which in turn supports the long-term viability of the organisation.
Beyond this, the conditions of Care facilities can often be challenging, particularly when working with high-dependency patients, regardless of the setting. It could be argued that the home care environment may have many variables and therefore be less controlled. Whereas, residential care facilities have been designed to address concerns such as improving access, providing specialised equipment to minimise falls and installing appropriate air conditioning systems.
The facilities who have done well through the COVID-19 crisis, and will continue to thrive post pandemic, are those who have focused on the quality standards throughout the Royal Commission and the dignity of risk concept. While this is usually applied to patients within care, it equally applies to staff as a valuable resource, who should continue to be empowered. Organisations that have prospered throughout COVID-19 have never shifted their focus from their primary purpose of providing facilities that makes residents, staff and stakeholders feel safe and secure.
For the foreseeable future, it is essential that care facilities look beyond the most obvious risks, and consider long term viability, governance and infection control to support their planning and crisis risk approach. It is imperative that this plan remains flexible and intuitive and is reviewed regularly. Organisations should also remain informed, keeping up to date with relevant advice and materials, such as those provided by the Department of Health.
National Care Solutions Practice Leader, Lyle Steffensen, provided these insights and more, in a recent Cannings Purple webinar forum, titled ‘Navigating Care Through COVID-19’. To explore these insights in further detail, view the full Cannings Purple webinar, here. Alternatively, if you would like a discussion around risk management advice and strategies that may help your facility, our team is here to help. Contact us now for more information.
The information contained in this publication provides only a general overview of subjects covered, is not intended to be taken as advice regarding any individual situation and should not be relied upon as such. Insureds should consult their insurance and legal advisors regarding specific coverage issues. LCPA 20/475.
1 - Australian Government Department of Health (July 7 2020) National COVID-19 Infographic - https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert
2 - National Disability Services (February 2018) Australian Disability WorkForce Report, page 4. - https://www.nds.org.au/images/workforce/Australian-Disability-Workforce-Report-Feb-2018-v4.pdf
3 - Parliament of Australia (8 May 2020) COVID-19: Impacts on casual workers in Australia – a statistical snapshot, Table 2 - https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/rp1920/StatisticalSnapshotCasualWorkersAustralia
4 -David Matrin Guzan – Australian Financial Review (16 September 2018) Aged care royal commission comes amid major workforce challenges - https://www.afr.com/policy/economy/aged-care-royal-commission-comes-amid-major-workforce-challenges-20180916-h15fxi