Government extends ADF support for ailing aged care

27 July 2022

The ANMF (SA Branch) has welcomed a decision to extend and expand Australian Defence Force (ADF) support for aged care homes battling COVID-19 outbreaks until the end of September.

Defence force personnel have provided clinical and non-clinical support to aged care homes experiencing COVID-19 related staff shortages since February.

In response to the latest surge, which shows more than a thousand aged care homes across the country are experiencing outbreaks, assistance will continue for another two months. An extra 250 defence personnel, in addition to clinician-led teams, will also be deployed, if needed.

As of mid-July, almost a third of South Australian nursing homes, 81 in all, had COVID outbreaks, with 319 COVID-positive residents and 228 staff.

According to the Federal Government, the ADF decision reflects the growing challenges faced by aged care homes amid the Omicron COVID-19 variant, including staff grappling with high workloads, stress, fatigue, and absence due to contracting the virus.

“We simply cannot find the staff,” Aged Care Minister Anika Wells told ABC radio.

“People are doing double shifts, people are working every single day without breaks. It’s an incredibly stressful environment.”

She said aged care providers and individual homes had a responsibility to manage staff, including surge workforce arrangements.

“When sufficient staff can’t be found during an outbreak, they will be able to ask the Department of Health and Aged Care to deploy a surge workforce, or ADF team, to support them through their immediate crisis. This is expected to be for short periods to allow more homes to be supported during outbreaks,” Ms Wells said.

“We need to protect our most vulnerable during this winter wave, and support from the ADF until September 30 will help address the workforce crisis we have seen in the past.’’

ANMF (SA Branch) CEO/Secretary Adj Associate Professor Elizabeth Dabars AM said the extension of ADF support was a welcome short-term move, but the Government simply had to address the desperate long-term needs of the aged care sector.

“Missed care, missed medications, missed meals, shocking levels of  malnutrition, more than 3,000 COVID deaths and a demoralised and completely overwhelmed workforce - the aged care nightmare never ends,’’ Ms Dabars said.

“Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Health Minister Mark Butler committed pre-election to supporting our Fix Aged Care campaign that addressed:

  • The need for RN 24/7 cover in all aged care sites;
  • Safe staffing ratios and the right skills mix;
  • The need for greater transparency for funding tied to care;
  • The need for better pay and working conditions so that we can attract and retain the workforce that is needed.

“Now more than ever the Government needs to act poste-haste on its promises to reverse the alarming demise of aged care in this country and give our elderly the dignified care they so richly deserve but sadly do not receive.’’