COVID-19 aged care disaster could be repeated without more assistance, sector warns

Aged care operators are warning Victoria's deadly COVID-19 outbreak could be repeated in other states if national cabinet does not bring forward the establishment of new response centres, while calling for $2 billion in federal funding to help protect the sector from the coronavirus.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has promised to include additional funding for the sector in the October federal budget, on Friday announced Aged Care Health Emergency Response Operations Centres like the one operating in Victoria would be set up in other states if "required in the future".

Aged care operators are warning that Victoria’s deadly COVID-19 outbreak could be repeated. Credit:Justin McManus

Leading Aged Services Australia chief executive Sean Rooney warned waiting for an outbreak to activate the operations centres could result in more deaths.

"If you wait, you'll end up with what Victoria had to do – and that was build the plane while it was having to fly," Mr Rooney told the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

"We need to plan for the worst, we need to stress test those plans and war game them, so we're absolutely assured that, in the event of widespread community outbreak, we know where the surge workforce is coming from, we know where the PPE is and how we're going to dispose of it.

"All of those things that we've seen happen in Victoria, we need to plan and prepare and those state centres should have that as part of their remit – not just co-ordination and response when there's a community outbreak."

In a pre-budget submission sent to the federal government, LASA outlines the $2 billion of annual funding it argues is needed to keep aged care recipients safe in the pandemic, pushing to double the amount provided per day from $7 to $15 per resident.

"We understand that the government has sought some modelling on [the funding required] and the numbers aren't too dissimilar," Mr Rooney said.

Funding would be used for additional infection control training, cleaning, personal protective equipment, building a surge workforce large enough to fill rosters in an outbreak, random testing of aged care workers whenever there is community transmission and ensuring all workers have access to paid pandemic leave.

"It is clear from the experience in Victoria that there would be benefit in a much greater investment to reinforce important workforce skills, and deepen the number of workers that the sector is able to call upon in the event that an outbreak occurs," the submission said.

Chief Nurse Alison McMillan, when asked during a federal health department COVID-19 update on Tuesday if the aged care response centres should be set up immediately, said the centres "are intended to have a strong preventative approach as well as a response if we do see an outbreak".

Ms McMillan said federal health authorities were working to "bolster preventative approaches in residential aged care and take some of those lessons we have learned both from Newmarch House [in NSW], in Victoria and across the country".

"We are seeing those responses already up and active, but not necessarily established through a physical centre at this point in time," she said, noting a federal health liaison officer was working with the Queensland government on its aged care response after COVID-19 was detected in the sector.

The state's chief health officer announced over the weekend it was recommended that visitors be banned from all Queensland aged care facilities.

Ms McMillan said the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission would be conducting spot checks "across the country, primarily obviously firstly in Victoria, but then elsewhere".

Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck said the federal government "continues to explore measures to ensure the aged care sector in reinforced".

"Consideration of any budget related matter is subject to the normal confidential budget process, noting that LASA only provided us with their submission this morning."

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