Fiona's Focus: The response to COVID-19 in Victoria
On 13 March, the Morrison government formed a National Cabinet, to respond to the national crisis posed by COVID-19. On 18 March 2020 a national human biosecurity emergency was declared under the provisions in the Biosecurity Act 2015 due to risks to human health posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. In all states and territories measures have been introduced that respond to directives under the human biosecurity emergency, however measures have varied from state to state as the Office of the Chief Health/Medical Officer in each jurisdiction has determined the locally appropriate responses (ref: Wikipedia - COVID-19 pandemic in Australia).
The situation in Victoria
Victoria first declared a state of emergency on 16 March which has been extended 31 May. The declaration of the state of emergency provides the Chief Health Officer with additional powers to issue directions aimed at containing the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) and keeping Victorians safe (ref: DHHS State of Emergency). The Chief Health Officer has since issued and updated as needed a series of mandatory directions that address both Victoria’s responsibility to the health and safety of its citizens and responding to federal directions.
The directions issued that have had the greatest impact on people with disability and service providers are the Stay at Home Direction (now in its 7th version) and Care Facilities Directions (in its third form). Many people with disability initially chose to withdraw from services to minimise their risk of infection. As directions changed, some services, such as day services and community access, were limited or required to find alternative modes of delivery such as tele-practice. Many NDS members reported a significant drop in demand for support from people with disability. Slowly restrictions are being eased as response plans have been enacted and infection rates have dropped. Many participants are now seeking to reengage with services outside the home including returning to employment.
On the 22 May 2020 DHHS updated the COVID-19 Disability Sector Plan which included a factsheet regarding a return to day services that respond to CHO directions and to the gradual easing of restrictions. The Sector Plan includes updates on day services (p13) and advice re arrangements that can be made with local police stations to support people with a cognitive disability who may have difficulty understanding and complying with Stay at Home Directions which may increase their likelihood of coming into contact with the police (p17).
NDS, DHHS, NDIA and NDIS Commission have all developed easy to access to information. As information is changing rapidly these weblinks provide the best links to up-to-date information. In a recent NDIS Commission provider alert they foreshadowed that the Federal Department of Health was developing a number of additional resources to support the health and disability sectors to respond to COVID-19 for people with disability. These resources can now be accessed on the Department of Health website or by using the links below.
Eased restrictions and the road to recovery
Over recent weeks, the sector has responded rapidly, readjusting service models, work processes and initiating new ways of working in response to the impact of COVID-19 disease. The declaration of national human biosecurity emergency and Victorian state of emergency mandated changes that needed to be implemented, these needed to be done in the least restrictive way and providers need to ensure they continued to meet their obligations as NDIS registered providers.
We are now seeing across the broader sector a new phase of recovery planning. The measures imposed initially as a result of the pandemic are being eased and the ability to undertake a greater but still limited range of activities have broadened the scope of social and recreation supports that can be delivered. During the pandemic NDS has delivered a suite of webinars, and I wish to recommend the presentation on risk management and COVID-19. This excellent webinar is presented by Anthony Black, from Ansvar Risk Management Services and Gail Murray, from Gallagher Insurance Brokers . This provides a good perspective of where we are at in the context of the response to the virus and considerations to mitigate risks as Stay at home directions are eased.
Amongst the challenges and difficult times being experienced by disability services in recent weeks, we are also seeing the emergence of positive initiatives. We have seen wonderful partnerships evolve, and an “overnight digital transformation” of necessity that has paved the way for new services delivery modes during the crisis. As a sector we look forward to reviewing what we have observed and learnt that will enhance and inform service delivery into the future, both the immediate and longer-term futures
I hope you, the people you support, your colleagues and loved ones stay safe and well as we continuing to live, work and play against the backdrop of COVID-19.