Victoria in Focus by Sarah Fordyce, State Manager Vic
We are experiencing the first hint of winter following what has been a glorious autumn in Victoria. While COVID-19 remains a dominant factor in all our lives, the removal of restrictions in most settings signals the beginning of living with COVID as an endemic virus.
This is a time for many disability providers to review and reset, putting in place strategies to survive and thrive in what is undoubtedly a challenging time in the legacy of the global pandemic. I recorded a podcast with Yooralla CEO Terry Symonds about the changes and preparations Yooralla has put in place for dealing with endemic COVID-19. The full interview and a shorter highlights podcast are available on the NDS website.
At our communities of practice and webinars, providers have told us clearly that their greatest challenges are economic viability, workforce shortages and the mental health and wellbeing of staff and participants.
During the past two years, we have embraced online forums and escalated engagement with our members through our online communities of practice. The issues raised and feedback we received through our engagement enable NDS in Victoria to continue our strong advocacy to governments on behalf of our providers.
Workforce shortages in the disability sector remain critical, and we are not seeing significant improvements on the horizon any time soon. Indeed, providers are preparing for a difficult winter, with ongoing high prevalence of both COVID-19 and influenza potentially adding to workforce shortages.
At NDS we provide support to the sector through our Workforce Hub, webinars and networking opportunities such as the Victorian Workforce Network. Our Workforce Census, along with other data NDS collects drives our advocacy, and enables us to effectively champion the needs of the sector in policy development.
Many providers are trying diverse ways to attract, recruits and retain workers. NDS is leading through partnerships and innovative approaches to aid providers’ efforts. NDS is actively engaging with disability service providers across Victoria to identify and support them to engage with the SkiP disability sector employment project. And don’t forget to register now for the Workforce Virtual Conference on 23 May. This one-day virtual conference will focus on future-proofing the disability workforce.
There is also an opportunity for providers and workers to contribute a project to improve supervision in the sector. NDS has partnered with Whereto Research Consultants to develop resources to enhance supervision for workers. We are seeking people from provider organisations who supervise or oversee supervisors to be involved in an online, workshop on 25 May from 2 – 4 pm AEST and interested disability workers for an online workshop on 26 May 2 to 4pm AEST to assist the development of resources to support the disability sector in enhancing supervision for workers.
Resources, events and training
NDS has a rich array of resources, as well as events and training, that are designed to help providers meet the challenges ahead. Discounts are available to members for training sessions. The Victorian events newsletter is emailed to NDS member employees each month, so make sure you are on the email list. You don’t want to miss out on fantastic learning and networking opportunities.
Providers should take advantage of the NDS COVID resources, which are still relevant. The First 24 Hours guide [Word] helps providers check internal systems to implement outbreak management protocols. The PPE supply calculator [Word] and RAT disability workers reporting template [Word] are quick, easy-to-use tools that can assist you right now. We hear that WorkSafe is making site visits, looking at whether people are wearing N95 masks correctly and if masks are TGA approved. The N95/P2 mask use video made by NDS and Health Education Collaborative is essential viewing for disability workers needing to wear face masks.
The NDIA did not release new pricing information before the Federal Government called the 21 May election and went into Caretaker mode. NDS acknowledges that providers are developing their 2022/23 budgets with uncertainty about NDIS prices, and concern about inflation. We are also aware that the impeding changes to the SCHADS award is driving organisations to overhaul their rosters and staffing arrangements, to reduce the potential of significant additional staffing costs.
NDS has successfully advocated for a one-step process for volunteers to streamline the slow two-step fee waiver process which has been causing significant delays. A reminder to providers that you can also reach out to Clare Hambly show phone number submit enquiry/feedback.
In the lead up to the Federal election, NDS CEO Laurie Leigh is providing a strong voice for service providers to the Federal Government, the Opposition and candidate around the country. The National Day of Action on 28 April saw rallies around Australia, supported by the NDS Teamwork works campaign, with calls to deliver a strong NDIS.
In Victoria the 2022/23 Victorian pre-election state budget lacked measures directly targeting disability service providers.
It did, however, include funding for a number of welcome disability specific initiatives, including $14.6M investment in the State Disability Plan; including money for an additional 20 Changing Places and grants to improve infrastructure accessibility of community facilities and the continuation of the Disability Liaison Officer program, which has been of significant assistance to providers and people with disability during the pandemic.
The Victorian Government is proposing new regulations which recognise hazards that pose a risk to psychological health are no less harmful to workers' safety than physical hazards.
The amendments include requirements for employers to identify psychological hazards, review risk control measures, and have prevention plans in place where certain psychosocial hazards are identified in the workplace.
NDS provided a submission, raising concerns that the proposed regulations may exacerbate administrative burden without making a real difference to reduce the incidence of psychological harm in the sector. We argued that targeted and funded initiatives to reduce occupational violence and aggression in the sector are needed to make a real impact to reduce mental injury in the sector.
Reminders for winter
We have been listing important reminders in the lead-up to winter for our providers at recent CoPs and webinars. I think they are worth listing here:
- Influenza and COVID-19 booster/winter dose vaccinations
- Reporting of all positive cases, workers and participants
- Review with staff PPE correct use (N95 masks, not KN95 masks)
- Clear communication regarding organisational close contact policy
- Contingency planning (scenario planning) for potential spike in cases over winter