There are concerns about the spread of coronavirus in the Northern Territory’s aged care sector after a second nursing home recorded cases this week, including one in a resident.
The operator of the Regis Tiwi aged care home in Darwin’s northern suburbs yesterday confirmed that one resident and two employees at the facility tested positive to COVID-19.
Speaking about the results, the home’s operator, Regis Aged Care, said an “outbreak management plan” has been implemented, which included “infection prevention and control measures” and zoning of the home.
“Regis has invested heavily in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and more recently rapid antigen tests (RATs) to ensure our employees are provided with appropriate safety equipment,” a Regis spokesperson said.
“None of our employees [has] been furloughed during this outbreak due to the added protection of the N95 face masks and face shields.
“All of our employees are provided with a RAT at the commencement of each shift.”
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Regis Aged Care said almost half of its residents have received a booster dose, with more expected to get their shots during a booster clinic scheduled this month.
Yesterday, the Northern Territory government confirmed that an outbreak at the Old Timers Aged Care Service in Alice Springs had grown to 11, after the first cases were detected there earlier this week.
Chief Health Officer Hugh Heggie said that COVID-positive residents at Old Timers had been separated from others.
“There’s been no need to move the residents from the facility,” Dr Heggie said.
The Australian Regional and Remote Community Services (ARRCS) — which operates Old Timers — said it was “managing a number of staff and resident exposures” at the home.
“We are implementing our pandemic management plans in close consultation with Northern Territory Health and federal government departments to manage the risks for our staff, residents and their families,” ARRCS said in a statement.
The federal government’s Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission (ACQSC) confirmed infection control spot checks had taken place at both Old Timers and Regis Tiwi.
The commission noted that services that were unprepared for an outbreak could be subject to regulatory action.
“Compliance enforcement decisions have been taken in relation to a number of services that have been slow to respond, or responded poorly to a COVID-19 outbreak,” an ACQSC spokesperson said.
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Notification issues, staff shortages among concerns for peak bodies
With staff shortages and outbreaks at hundreds of aged care homes across Australia, advocates have raised concerns about whether the NT’s aged care sector can handle a surge in COVID-19 cases.
Council on the Ageing (COTA) NT chief executive Sue Shearer said she had been contacted by concerned relatives of residents at Old Timers after the first cases were detected at the facility earlier this week.
“We had people from Alice Springs calling us because relatives hadn’t been advised at all and are really distressed,” Ms Shearer said.
“We ask these particular aged care places to notify their relatives as soon as possible.
The peak body for not-for-profit aged care providers, Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA), said it expected Northern Territory nursing homes would face significant staff shortages as the Omicron variant spread.
“We’re hearing reports of staff shortages of anywhere between 5 per cent and 50 per cent in Sydney because [staff have] either contracted COVID or they’ve been a close contact,” ACSA chief executive Paul Sadler said.
“So far in the Northern Territory, the community transmission has not quite been at the same level as it has been in the eastern and southern states.
Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner defended his government’s management of COVID-19 in the Territory’s nursing homes, saying any cases detected in aged care centres triggered an “immediate, aggressive contact tracing approach” by the Territory’s Centre for Disease Control (CDC).
“If there is a case in aged care, there’s already an authorising environment for you to do aggressive contact tracing — it doesn’t need to be briefed up,” he said.