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How Should Defence Force Support Be Used in Aged Care? Aged Care Workers Have Their Say.

22/02/22
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As mentioned in last week’s article, the Commonwealth Government recently announced that up to 1,700 Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel will be deployed to support staff in the aged care sector. With the plan still in its early stages, there are questions about how the ADF personnel can best be used.

 

In ACE’s view, no one is better placed to answer this question than aged care workers. So we asked them.

Our recent survey received over 150 responses to this question: How should the Australian Defence Force be used to support the aged care sector throughout the current Omicron outbreak?

Here’s a summary of what the workers on the ground had to say. Where relevant, we’ve added some of the explanatory information provided in the Department of Health’s Factsheet on ADF support to aged care facilities.

 

Not Clinical Care or Personal Care (Unless Well-Qualified)

Dozens of survey respondents insisted that, while support is welcome, it is not appropriate for ADF staff to be providing clinical or personal care:

  • “Do not believe that person care should be delivered by ADF personnel at all as our vulnerable elderly deserve to be cared for by individuals who have been trained in understanding and respect of their needs.”
  • “Aged care needs a new model of care. ADF does not have the intimate knowledge of each resident to provide person-centred care.”

That said, a significant minority of respondents welcomed clinical and personal care support from the ADF, provided that the ADF personnel had appropriate qualifications and experience and were supervised by aged care staff:

  • “Every organisation sometimes needs to call for outside help. Thank goodness we have such a well-trained, responsible, capable resource available.”

Many of these respondents particularly welcomed ADF assistance in the context of supporting residents with their meals.

A small minority of respondents went so far as to say that, if the ADF can’t provide clinical and personal care, then they aren’t much use:

  • “The medical trained defence force can come and assist but if the defence force has no medical experience it would be more of an burden then assistance.”
  • “The crisis is at ground level care delivery - carers, registered nurses and qualified lifestyle staff.”

Department of Health guidance: the Department’s factsheet says that ADF support will be in two main forms “medical teams and general duties teams”. General duties teams “can assist with non-clinical duties”. The medical teams will include qualified Registered Nurses and Enrolled Nurses.

 

Administration, Maintenance and Background Support

If not clinical or personal care, what support should the ADF provide? Most respondents listed administration, maintenance and background support tasks, including:

  • Food preparation, catering and kitchen duties
  • Cleaning and laundry
  • Waste management
  • Stock management
  • Communications and technology support
  • Maintenance
  • Activities with residents
  • Transport.

Department of Health guidance: the Department’s factsheet says that general duties teams can assist with non-clinical duties such as:

  • Resident communication with families
  • Companionship
  • Meal delivery
  • General cleaning
  • Staff and visitor screening
  • Administration and logistics.

 

Visitor Screening and Vaccination

Many respondents would like to see ADF personnel conducting the administration of visitor screening and even conducting rapid antigen tests for visitors. There were also suggestions that appropriately qualified ADF personnel could administer vaccinations in the aged care home.

 

Chatting and Keeping Company

Aged care workers are particularly keen to see ADF personnel providing social support to residents. This was seen as a huge benefit not only to residents but to aged care staff as well:

  • “Just sitting with residents so they do not feel lonely. Allow staff who are working double shifts etc to have their meal breaks and to have time to speak with relatives to let them know how their loved one is going.”
  • “Take them for a walk. Come with a can-do attitude to buoy the current workforce who have been dealing with COVID -19 for two years without much help. Help them to laugh and feel good about what they do day in day out.”

 

Filling the Gaps (But there are Gaps Everywhere)

In terms of where ADF staff should be deployed, the general consensus was that they should go wherever there are staff shortages.

Some respondents suggested that the ADF should focus on filling the gaps left by furloughing of staff. Many others noted that, regardless of furloughing, almost every aged care home is suffering from staff shortages and “All homes right now have a need for help”.

 

Finally: is this a Band-Aid Measure?

It is impossible to give an accurate picture of our survey results without acknowledging that some respondents did not welcome the ADF deployment at all and viewed it as inappropriate. Many others, while not opposed to the deployment, considered it to be a band-aid measure that distracts from systemic problems in the aged care industry:

  • “This is a band-aid, it is not addressing the fundamental issue! They will not really help, as they will be restricted with what they can do. Resident care will not be addressed.”
  • “I genuinely believe that they can't help, and the numbers are clearly insufficient. Our RACF could benefit from 40 staff just to get our numbers up to pre-pandemic baselines.”
  • “If Residential Aged Care had been maintained to a standard, recognised as a specialised area of care the ADF would not have been needed! My 30 years have seen nothing but neglect, promises and bureaucracy layer upon layer to tick someone’s box, making not one piece of difference to our elders.”
  • “If our industry was recognised by the Government, and issues addressed, we would not need the ADF. The government is so far removed from what happens on the ground, it is not funny. In fact, it brings tears to my eyes.”

 

Stay Tuned for More Insights from Our Workforce Survey

The ADF deployment was only one of several topics covered in our recent survey. Other topics included the Bonus Payment for aged care workers, major challenges for 2022, the adequacy of government support, effects of the Omicron outbreak and workers’ plans to leave the sector. We’ll be covering some of these topics and sharing more insights from the survey in the coming weeks.

 

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About the Author

Mark Bryan

Mark is a Legal Content Consultant at Ideagen CompliSpace and the editor for Aged Care Essentials (ACE). Mark has worked as a Legal Policy Officer for the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department and the NSW Department of Justice. He also spent three years as lead editor for the private sessions narratives team at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Mark holds a bachelor’s degree in Arts/Law from the Australian National University with First Class Honours in Law, a Graduate Diploma in Writing from UTS and a Graduate Certificate in Film Directing from the Australian Film Television and Radio School.

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