The Morrison Government has commended workers across Australia’s aged care sector for their extraordinary commitment to protect themselves and those they care for.
As the first sector to benefit from a national approach to mandatory vaccinations, staff at residential aged care facilities nationwide have shown leadership and a willingness to put others first.
Minister for Health and Aged Care, Greg Hunt, and Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services, Richard Colbeck, said the uptake in vaccinations has provided a blueprint for others to follow.
“Residential aged care workers are leading the nation’s overall vaccination rates,” Minister Hunt said. “It is encouraging that almost all residential aged care workers have taken action to protect themselves, their communities and the senior Australians in their care.
“It is a reflection of the commitment of the workforce and the partnership between the Government, aged care peaks and unions in supporting the mandatory vaccination order.”
While every life lost to COVID-19 is tragic, the increasing rate of vaccination across the aged care workforce has had a clear impact when the number of deaths in residential aged care this year are compared to the first wave of the virus in 2020.
To date, 95.8 per cent of residential aged care workers have received a first dose of a COVID‑19 vaccine. 76.9 per cent of workers are fully vaccinated.
These rates are higher than those across the community and reflects the determination of staff and administrators.
It also represents one of the highest workforce vaccination rates in the world.
Careful compliance measures will take effect once weekly figures are updated on 22 September, in line with the state and territory public health orders on mandatory COVID-19 vaccination in residential aged care.
Facilities where employees are yet to complete their vaccination will now become the focus of further specific in-reach clinics.
The public health orders give effect to National Cabinet’s decision on 28 June 2021 to make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory in residential aged care, informed by the expert medical advice of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC).
Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services, Richard Colbeck, expressed his thanks to the aged care workforce, providers, provider peak bodies and worker representatives for their efforts.
“It has been a significant effort from all concerned,” Minister Colbeck said. “I thank them and congratulate them.”
He said the next step was to ensure providers correctly reported vaccination rates and any authorised exemptions via the My Age Care Portal.
“The Government, through the Department of Health and with the support of the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, will engage directly with providers and individual facilities to discuss the vaccination and exemption data to clarify if there are any unvaccinated workers or where there may be exemptions that may apply,” Minister Colbeck said.
“While the data shows only a small number of workers may choose to not be vaccinated and leave the sector, facilities will need to demonstrate measures are in place to ensure continued quality of care and appropriate COVID-19 preparation and risk management.
“This will be done in a careful and constructive manner.”
Facilities will be required to confirm and implement strategies for addressing non-medical exemptions and ensuring plans are in place for workers yet to be vaccinated within a limited period.
Approved providers are responsible for ensuring the ongoing delivery of safe and quality care to residents at all times – including staffing their services appropriately.
Where providers experience a shortage of staff, there are a range of options available including to call on or expand arrangements with external recruitment agencies to ensure their services are adequately staffed.
Providers of facilities which fail to meet the requirements may face regulatory action via the Commission or penalties in line with state or territory public health orders.
The mandatory vaccination deadline and increasing vaccination rates in the community also marks an important opportunity for aged care administrators to review their rules around visitation, ensuring residents, particularly those with dementia, have access to family and friends.
Providers have an important responsibility to support visitation by adopting screening protocols, encouraging the use of masks, and monitoring the use of common areas to support social distancing.
Providers can access Aged Care Visitation guidelines here.
The Industry Code for Visiting Residential Aged Care Homes during COVID-19 can be found here.