By Aleksandra Bliszczyk
Kilmore District Health offered priority COVID-19 vaccines to aged care and disability workers from private, Commonwealth-managed, facilities as part of a statewide blitz last week.
The State Government-led blitz came after two workers and two residents in an Arcare private aged care facility in Melbourne tested positive last week.
One of the two infected staff members also worked at a BlueCross facility in Sunshine while contagious but asymptomatic, sending that facility into lockdown too.
All BlueCross staff in Sunshine have since returned negative results, while its staff statewide, including at Kilmore and Mill Park, have been ‘strongly encouraged’ to be vaccinated, despite no federal mandate.
At Kilmore District Health, KDH, which has two aged care facilities Caladenia Nursing Home and Dianella Village Hostel, all staff have been offered vaccines.
But chief executive David Naughton said any rules around mandatory vaccines would need to come from the State Government – as the Kilmore facilities are public, state-managed.
“[For KDH] that’s a state-level thing, not a specific health service-level thing,” Mr Naughton said.
“We wouldn’t do that and we wouldn’t do that to our staff either, so even if that policy was to come into place we would make sure our staff were looked after and found work in an alternate place.
“No one in Kilmore is at risk of losing their job because of not having a vaccination.”
Victoria’s latest outbreak has prompted the Federal Government to reconsider whether to mandate vaccines for all private aged care staff.
“In relation to mandating for aged care workers, that had been previously looked at by the chief health officers of the states, along with the Commonwealth, and the Prime Minister and myself have asked the medical expert panel to review that decision,” Federal Minister for Health Greg Hunt said.
All 596 private residential aged care facilities in Victoria have had a first dose visit, and 382 of those sites have had a second dose visit, according to the Federal Government, with the remaining sites scheduled for the next three weeks.
At Seymour Health, all residents at its Barrabill House aged care facility were offered the COVID-19 vaccination and 83 per cent took up the offer.
“The second dose, due in July, is in line with the recommended 12-week gap between the first dose and the second dose; however we are in discussions to bring the second dose timeline forward to a date yet to be confirmed,” a Seymour Health spokesperson said.
More than 90 per cent of public-sector health and aged care workers were vaccinated before the blitz, according to the State Government, but the Federal Government did not meet its February target to vaccinate all Australian aged care residents and staff by Easter.
Staff at multiple sites
The discrepancy between state and federal rules around whether staff can work at multiple aged care facilities also came to light last week, as BlueCross discouraged multiple site staffing after its Sunshine staff member tested positive.
“For our part, we actively discourage multiple site staffing wherever possible while still ensuring our ability to meet our residents’ needs,” a BlueCross spokesperson said.
Multiple site staffing is permitted in the private Commonwealth-managed sector, but not in the public, state-managed sector.
Of Victoria’s 820 COVID-19 deaths in 2020, 655 were in residential aged care.
In July 2020, the State Government amended its public sector principles to ensure that aged care workers were based at one residential facility to minimise the risk of COVID-19 being unintentionally transmitted.
The rules applied in the Mitchell Shire until early this year, and continues to be in place in greater Melbourne until at least June 30.
At the same time, the Federal Government changed its guidelines for private aged care, requiring workers with more than one aged care employer to choose a primary employer, but were still permitted to work across multiple. The government currently has funding available for aged care homes until June 10 to encourage single site employment.
For public-sector Kilmore District Health, the State Government rules mean its staff are not allowed to work in other homes.
“For a long time now, for residential aged care staff [there’s] a policy and rule that’s enforced that no one is allowed to work across multiple sites, and that’s a statewide thing, all the statewide services are like that,” Mr Naughton said.