Victoria in Focus by Sarah Fordyce, State Manager Vic
The New Year failed to bring the relief from the pandemic we were all hoping for. Instead, the virulent omicron variant defied the COVID-19 vaccinations at the same time Victorians were navigating their way forward to Living with COVID. Pleasingly, it is apparent that vaccinations, including booster doses, provide broad protection from severe illness, hospitalisation and death.
In the disability sector, DFFH reported that active cases of NDIS participants and workers peaked at 926 on 16 January. The outbreaks in the sector placed enormous pressure on providers to deliver care to their clients and manage significant workforce shortages.
NDS responded swiftly to support providers facing a broad range of challenges – caring for COVID-19 positive participants, household close contact requirements, long waits for PCR results, scarce Rapid Antigen Tests, uncertainty around government advice and COVID-19 vaccinations.
In January we reinstated the fortnightly information online sessions that have proved valuable to providers since 2020. The 'Living with COVID' sessions feature representatives from the Victorian Government (DH and DFFH) and NDIA to provide situation updates, respond to providers’ questions and gather intelligence from the sector.
In addition, NDS has established a Disability Vaccine Collaborative at the request of the Victorian Government to support remaining unvaccinated people with disabilities to receive their initial course of vaccine through one of the COVID-19 vaccination options for the disability sector.
NDS has been regularly polling providers to track COVID-19 related issues and how these are changing. Workforce shortages, economic viability and staff wellbeing are the priority issues for providers early in 2022, with concern about access to RATs now dissipating. Meeting the third dose mandate for workers has also been a source of anxiety and following advocacy from NDS on behalf of the sector, the government extended the booster deadline to 12 March 2022. There remains, however, issues with the timelines for recording booster bookings. Some NDS members are indicating that significant numbers of workers have yet to receive their boosters, due to a range of factors.
Workforce recruitment, retention and supply
Providers are reporting that workforce shortages are extreme; with between 5 to 30 per cent of workers furloughed since the beginning of 2022. At a recent provider online session, more than 85 per cent nominated workforce shortages in their top three concerns.
Omicron places immense pressure on an already depleted workforce. Disability staff and leaders are exhausted. This sustained stress presents risks to long-term mental health and wellbeing.
The COVID-19 related workforce shortages are likely to have been exacerbated by the end to transitional arrangements for the NDIS check, which forced some organisations to stand down workers who failed to apply by the deadline. The DJCS has informed NDS that the current average wait time for manual applications is around 2 to 3 weeks, while the average wait time for online applications is around three days. We are keen to hear whether providers are experiencing these fast turnarounds.
NDS continues to work on programs and deliver workshops that equip providers to compete in this environment, including advocacy with the state and federal governments and engaging with programs such as the Work That Matters campaign and Local Jobs Program initiatives.
NDS has partnered with Purpose at Work to develop a terrific series of videos focused on Creating an Enabling Work Environment. This video series and accompanying resource guides provide good practice guidance to assist organisations to create a work environment that enables their employees to do their best work and to feel supported and valued.
SACs Consulting will partner with NDS to deliver three workforce webinars in the first half of 2022. The first will be on Team Building for resilience and wellbeing.
Many providers report concerns around their ongoing viability. The pandemic continues to impact incomes and providers face previously unforeseen costs such as PPE and RATs, with NDIA and the Victorian Government offering limited options for supply or reimbursement. The ongoing cost curbing of the NDIA is another pressure.
Building a strong and unified sector together
In 2022, NDS will continue delivering resources, communities of practice and sector training which respond to the needs of providers, identified through our polls and close relationships with the sector. Advocacy will continue at both the state level from our Victorian office, and nationally with the NDS ‘TeamWork Works’ campaign, all within the context of impending elections.
The Living with COVID-19: Information sharing and collaboration series will continue every second Friday whilst required. Communities of Practice attract solid attendance, with Finance Representatives, Day Services, Behaviour Support Providers and SIL coming up.
The Support Coordinators CoP on 10 March features a presentation from the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability which is seeking assistance to connect with people with a disability, with lived experiences in homelessness, CALD and guardianship. You can register for all events at NDS Events in Victoria.