Caring in the midst of a pandemic
The most significant impact of COVID-19 in Queensland was felt last summer, when the opening of state borders coincided with the arrival of the Omicron variant of the virus.
The resultant surge in cases tested almost every aspect of our lives. For vulnerable seniors living in aged care, the virus posed an even greater threat.
The pandemic has highlighted how adaptable and committed the aged care sector and its workers are. Dedicated care staff in all Carinity aged care communities rose to the occasion, working long hours to help minimise the impact of the virus for our residents.
We spoke to some Carinity staff who have selflessly gone above and beyond to deliver the best of care for older Queenslanders during the pandemic.
Mark has worked in various roles with Carinity Aged Care, from nursing to being a Residential Manager. He worked on the frontline during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic as Clinical Nurse – Infection Control at Carinity Brookfield Green.
According to Mark, ensuring the safety of aged care residents, while maintaining their mental health and wellness, has been “an ongoing challenge” during COVID lockdowns.
“Each resident has their own individual needs to be catered for. During times when we had active cases, we kept residents engaged by supplying single use newspapers, puzzles and colouring books. Staff also assisted residents when using technology to remain connected with their families,” Mark said.
“During an outbreak, every time a staff member entered a resident’s room, they needed to wear a single-use gown, mask, eye shield and disposable gloves. It was very time consuming and very hot.
“Exiting the room, staff needed to remove all PPE, with hand hygiene and sanitising between each step. This happened every time a staff member visited any resident.”
Despite the complexities of COVID and how it affects aged care, Mark believes there are silver linings to come out of the pandemic.
“I have observed the way staff from all over the organisation have banded together through adversity, to ensure everything is done to provide quality and continuity of care,” he said.
“I have seen head office management staff with their sleeves rolled up washing dishes. No matter the role, everybody is invaluable and plays an important part in doing whatever it takes to care for residents.”
Suman is a clinical nurse who specialises in infection control and wound management at Carinity Cedarbrook.
After the Gold Coast aged care community where he works overcame its first COVID cases, Suman travelled to Carinity aged care sites in Townsville, Bundaberg and Brisbane to share the knowledge he gained from the experience.
“As I worked closely with the Commonwealth’s COVID first responder at Cedarbrook, I was able to learn and apply my infection control knowledge to minimise the chance of the virus spreading in other communities. It was a nice feeling to support other sites,” Suman said.
“COVID has forced us to look into the procedures we follow at our workplaces. Changing the way we work was challenging, but not impossible. With the higher vaccination rate and appropriate PPE, people now feel more confident working, living in and visiting a community where COVID is present.
“The virus has changed our lives but also reminded us how important it is to look out for others.”
As Carinity’s Procurement Officer, Leigh works with organisations which provide goods and services for use in our communities.
Leigh sources everything from physiotherapy services and food products to oxygen supplies, but personal protective equipment has been the most in-demand item during the pandemic. He knows the enormous logistical challenges of keeping aged care residents and staff safe from COVID.
“PPE has always been used in aged care sites to protect both residents and staff. What COVID-19 has done is dramatically increase our use of it,” Leigh said.
Leigh estimates that during the initial wave of Omicron last summer, between 10,000 and 15,000 sets of PPE were used by staff at each affected Carinity aged care site every day.
“The cost of each outbreak ranges from $80,000 to over $400,000. But cost wasn’t the only challenge – some PPE items were simply not available for purchase.
“Our response was to move stock between sites when we had to, which ensured there wasn’t a day where any Carinity site was without a specific item of PPE.”
Carinity also embraced new technology designed to help keep residents, visitors and staff safe, transitioning to digital check-in systems with integrated temperature recording.
Fiona is the daughter of Anne McNeill, 77, who lives at the Carinity Wishart Gardens aged care community in Brisbane.
Fiona feels safe and supported while visiting her mother at Carinity Wishart Gardens – and she backs the measures that were implemented to keep residents and visiting family members safe.
“Obviously, all the safety measures are necessary with the elderly being an at-risk group. Carinity have managed the pandemic so well, I honestly cannot fault it. The constant communication we have received, the safety measures put in place and the care of all staff has been second-to-none,” Fiona said.
“Other families I’ve spoken to have also been receptive and supportive of all COVID-safe measures Carinity have installed.
“The care our mother has received has been exceptional. My sisters and I are so grateful to Carinity as an organisation, and all of the staff.”
Read more stories from Belong: Winter 2022 | Edition 26