Sarah's Soundbite: October 2021
There is optimistic modeling coming from the Burnet Institute that the speed and uptake of vaccinations in Australia has “surprised many”, and indications that Australia could reach 95 per cent fully vaccinated.
The transition to ‘Living with COVID’ in Victoria, however, brings many challenges for the disability sector. Rising community infections are seeing providers again dealing with positive cases among participants and workers, reinstating incident control centres and business continuity plans, all the while dealing with a chronic workforce shortage.
We have stepped up NDS advocacy in the context of the current dynamic and challenging environment. We are calling for early detailed advice on restrictions applying to disability services, and particularly day services, clarity about PPE and quarantine requirements, guidance around supporting covid positive participants, and engagement and support for surge workforce options.
We are also lobbying for a six month hold on the ‘no check, no start’ rule in Victoria for NDIS Checks for new workers. This would help providers trying to meet the growing workforce challenges, and access sufficient workforce to ensure that people with disabilities continue to receive essential supports while mitigating COVID-19 infection risk.
While there have been some improvements, NDS is aware that application processing delays of up to several weeks are still common. Other states and territories have successfully implemented an NDIS check system which allows new workers to commence in risk-assessed roles, provided they have applied for an NDIS check and meet other reasonable safety requirements.
While many in the sector are tired from the trials of this pandemic, we have all learned many lessons over the past 18 months that give us knowledge, experience, and confidence to transition to 'Living with COVID’.
NDS will be working with the sector in coming months to provide the support, information and resources needed to navigate this transition. I’ve no doubt providers will need to draw on reserves of resilience, however this time there is a foundation of strong collaboration amongst providers, with the support of NDS, NDIA and government to identify issues, share strategies and resources; and provide support to each other.
We have a new easy-to-remember website address for our NDS COVID-19 webpage. Save as a favourite to check-in on the latest news updates, resources and events relating to COVID-19 and the disability sector in Victoria.
It has been pleasing to see concerted efforts from state and federal governments to deliver vaccination options that suit our sector.
In a final push before Victoria fully reopens, we ask providers and disability workers help ensure that people with disabilities get vaccinated should they wish to. We do not want anyone to be left behind and not able to fully participate in activities of their choice as reopening occurs.
In the final week before Victoria reaches the next phase of the Roadmap and reopens, we are asking disability workers to support the push not to leave anyone behind by:
- Introducing the topic of vaccination through a conversation with the person. This could include asking about their access to a COVID-19 vaccination and whether they still have any questions or concerns.
- Framing the enquiry in the context of reopening Victoria. We want individuals to have the maximum opportunity to re-engage in activities and communities.
- Asking if they are happy to have a chat with a DLO. With the person's consent, the worker can complete the Request for DLO Support form.
NDS has reinstated the fortnightly webinars which were so valued by providers in 2020. The Living with COVID-19 sessions will include updates on current government directions and restrictions, presentations from relevant experts, sharing of good practice, and consideration of emerging issues.
The introduction of mandatory vaccinations for authorised workers meant that on 15 October, disability workers who cannot work from home have received their first vaccination, or at least have a booking for a first vaccination by 22 October in order to retain their role.
NDS has long supported mandatory COVID-19 vaccination in the disability sector, and supports the Public Health Orders mandating authorised worker vaccinations. But there is concern that we will lose workers. Providers are already reporting resignations, while others say they are working it through with workers, such as giving them time off to consider their position. NDS is aware this is occurring in a context of widespread workforce shortages.
NDS COVID-19 resources
We will continue to provide the latest information and new resources on our COVID-19 Hub at www.nds.org.au/covidvic:
- Vaccination Champions interviews
- Business Continuity, IPC and Wellbeing Toolkits
- Responding to an Outbreak – the first 24 hours
- Guide for Snap Lockdowns
- COVID-19 Vaccine FAQs & resources
There is much to look forward to, and even more that our sector should be proud of. Our experience in Victoria has provided us with the wisdom to know that while there is cause for celebrations in the coming weeks, they will be well used to plan and prepare for the inevitable surge in community cases.