changing aged care
Defining moments changing aged care
Stephanie Buckland, Chief Executive Officer
How many times have you been asked ‘where were you when…’? Where were you when man first walked on the moon (21 July 1969), where were you when Elvis died (16 August 1977), where were you when the Queen became the first reigning monarch to visit Australia (3 February 1954)?
Lesser known dates have also been defining moments in our history. For example, where were you on 25 January 2020? It’s the day that a devastating virus that had been sweeping through China and parts of Europe was first reported in Australia – in Victoria. Later that day, New South Wales reported its first cases.
That novel coronavirus took almost another month to arrive in Western Australia, when a WA resident, who was a passenger onboard a cruise ship, tested positive to the virus and was evacuated to Perth on 21 February 2020. Nine days later, the man became the first person in Australia to die from COVID-19.
That day changed the way we lived. Here in WA, we heard of the mounting death toll from the virus, mostly among older people in aged care. To avoid a similar fate, we willingly endured lockdown after lockdown.
The next defining date, 11 March 2020, was when we were told by the World Health Organisation (WHO), in no uncertain terms, that due to ‘the alarming levels of spread and severity, and the alarming levels of inaction’ we were in the grips of a COVID-19 pandemic.
Having watched the struggle faced by aged care providers on the east coast, Amana Living and five other major aged care providers in WA began working collaboratively, sharing information, research and practices. We were no longer competing with each other but working together to ensure the safety and well-being of all residents of aged care facilities and clients receiving services in their homes.
Aged care changed. I would argue that it changed for the better.
Very early on, and long before it became a government requirement, Amana Living introduced a team of infection control and prevention specialists to audit then improve the infection control practices of all staff, and even residents.
We learned that the smallest changes made the biggest difference. Practises such as frequent hand washing, physical distancing, coughing into your elbow and wearing surgical masks became and remain the norm.
At the beginning of the pandemic, aged care facilities locked down, shutting out the virus and visitors. Residents were isolated in their rooms, and we introduced technology to create a bridge between residents and their families and friends.
Our Keep Connected program allowed residents in isolation to have video calls with family and friends. It also gave people the opportunity to see and speak with long-lost friends in other parts of the world.
While this program was introduced as a tool to help people stay in touch during the worst of an outbreak, it is now being used by families who are overseas or interstate to have regular catch-ups with their loved ones, even when they are not in isolation.
The next defining moment was New Year’s Eve 2020. It was probably the most significant day in the fight to control this pandemic; the WHO approved the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use. Since then, other vaccines have been developed and approved, and on 22 February 2021, Australia launched its COVID vaccination program. The vaccine was initially offered to the most vulnerable groups, including aged care residents and staff. We’ve since had follow-up clinics for second, third and now fourth doses of the vaccine.
While the vaccines do not stop a person catching the virus, symptoms are mild and the risk of dying from COVID-19 has been minimised. This has allowed us to again change our attitudes to managing outbreaks. We now encourage people to visit residents during an outbreak to maintain one-to-one contact with their families. Visitors must wear masks, face shields, gowns and gloves, but do so willingly.
The toll of isolation, including loneliness, depression, and the loss of cognitive function, has been remarkably reduced. Importantly, older people are still able to enjoy themselves with minimal disruption.
You must remember that the isolation requirement has been halved from 14 to seven days, all going well.
Many of the COVID measures have made a significant impact on the way aged care is delivered, and will continue to be delivered long after the pandemic is over. At Amana Living, we are guided by our Christian values and embrace change that enables older people to live the best life they can. We know that ‘Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change’ (James 1:17).