Covid and the impacts on our community are hard on everybody. We are aware that for many individuals and families we support it brings particular difficulties. This is why we have continued to provide what service we could throughout all of the lockdowns and ongoing restrictions.
On average we have been able to maintain over 50% of our services active during the lockdowns. This includes our day services when the majority of days services had closed during the longer periods of lockdown. We kept day services open by renting a range of smaller sperate locations and supporting smaller day centre groups (of 4 people) in those settings preventing crossover between sites of both participants and staff.
While the vast majority of participants and families have fully supported our Covid management decisions some people have told us that we have been too strict in our application of limits in providing supports, especially during the stricter lockdowns where we did not accept people for support in our day or individualised supports when the participant was receiving support from another agency at home, or at another service. This was done to reduce the risk of cross infection.
What are some of the main reasons that we make the decisions we do:
- We maintain the principle of safety first and services second when responding to Covid 19. If we can’t do it safely we won’t do it.
- Over 75% of the population we support have known vulnerabilities that would make contracting COVID 19 especially dangerous and places them in a high-risk category.
- We need to comply with the general community rules such as one person every 4 square metres along with rules that DHHS applies specifically to disability supports
- There are a range of risk factors, 11 key ones, such as an ability to maintain space, the avoidance of crossover infection from unknown sources, maintaining environmental cleanliness, that we need to consider in maintaining supports during Covid, especially during lockdowns. If, during the most high-risk periods, we cannot reduce the impact of one of the risks we will try to remove it. Preventing the crossover of our staff with staff from other agencies, when we have no knowledge about their practices or how many others they are supporting and under what circumstances, is one of these. The Melbourne School of Population and Global Health recognised that Disability support workers (DSWs) are at greater risk of being infected with COVID-19 because they work with people with disability who may also be supported by numerous other support workers. This finding is not new information to us, we recognised at the beginning of this pandemic that the crossover of staff in community and home environments presented a very high-risk profile, in many ways similar to that caused by casual staff in Nursing homes.
We know that the increasing number of people being vaccinated will change the risk profile that Covid represents and we will continue to develop our service response during covid in the context of advice from the health authorities.