Strict hygiene and COVID-19 infection control measures at one Sydney aged care home has meant there have been no cases of flu or coronavirus – or even the common cold – among residents in 135 days
A Northern Beaches aged care home which brought in strict COVID-19 guidelines – including asking staff to sacrifice their second jobs – is celebrating 135 days of residents being cold, flu and coronavirus free.
Allambie Heights Village Residential Aged Care Facility, which proudly displays the banner ‘Fortress Allambie’ over its entrance, is a shining example of how to keep residents safe during a pandemic, with not one resident suffering as much as a cold so far.
CEO Ciaran Foley said they formed a COVID-19 action team before the virus had even arrived in Australia.
After the first case was identified, they introduced new rules that all staff and visitors had to sign declarations to say they had the flu vaccination and that they would not enter the facility if they had any symptoms.
Staff were also asked whether they had second jobs, 11 did.
They were asked to give up their second job or leave. All 11 chose to stay
*[Correction by Allambie Heights Village Ltd: Some staff had already chosen not to work elsewhere because of safety precautions.]
Other safety measures that were introduced included asking all staff travelling on public transport to wear masks and anyone living in postcodes where there have been virus outbreaks to wear masks within the facility.
Hygiene and PPE training is ongoing and constantly being updated.
As well as visitor restrictions, every visitor is temperature checked on arrival and asked to sign a declaration.
“Our survey showed 98 per cent of relatives are in favour of what we are doing,” Mr Foley said.
“The only people that can bring the virus into the home are the staff or the visitors, so it is a collective responsibility.”
But while he said he is very proud of how they have dealt with the health threat, he feels aged care homes have been abandoned by the government during the pandemic and his heart goes out to facilities such as the Dorothy Henderson Lodge, Newmarch House and those in Victoria which have been affected by COVID-19.
“We as an aged care facility have had to buy every piece of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) ourselves,” he said.
“This comes at a time that up until March 2020, statistics showed 62 per cent of all residential age care facilities are operating at a financial loss.
“Meanwhile, we are being asked to be on the frontline with all these extended costs.”
“I’ve had to employ more staff, buy additional equipment and there have been additional expenses around hygiene and cleaning.”
“As an operator, we are paying for that.”
“We’ve done that to keep everyone safe but we are not getting any support from the government.”
“In fact, we are having to pay incredulous prices for PPE as people are clearly profiteering at the moment.”
“The government has got millions and millions of PPE and we are saying, ‘Share it with us’.” He also said it was a basic human right for anyone who is sick to be allowed to go to hospital, irrespective of age, and particularly if they have COVID-19.”
“A residential aged care facility is about feeding, caring and entertaining residents, the clue is in the name,” Mr Foley said.
“A hospital looks after the health of a person and is a much better place to cope with someone with an infectious disease than an aged care facility.”
“We are not an acute service.”
Mr Foley said it has been unfair for the government to blame the aged care sector for the spread of the virus within facilities.
He said it was obvious to anyone that trained doctors and nurses in a hospital setting is a more suitable way of looking after a highly infectious patient than in a nursing home.
Nevertheless, he said they were preparing and rehearsing for an outbreak at the Allambie Heights facility, home to 42 residents, just in case.
“We have started modelling for an outbreak of COVID-19,” Mr Foley said.
“We are doing drills.”
He said if it were to happen they would like the first resident diagnosed with COVID-19 to be taken to hospital, which would be the safest place for them, and allow the facility to be deep cleaned and for everyone to have tests to stop it spreading throughout the home.
Meanwhile, Mr Foley said they are continuing with their strict hygiene and infection control measures.
“We are very proud of what we have achieved but we can’t afford to have any weak areas,” he said.
“Everyone needs to remain responsible and accountable to keep everyone safe and healthy.”
NSW Health is yet to respond to questions.