Sarah's Soundbite: November 2021
As Victoria opens and many restrictions have been lifted, there is a real sense that despite increased freedoms for most members of society, people with a disability and service providers continue to face considerable challenges as we move to ‘Living with COVID-19'.
What are the emerging issues for the disability sector, as we move to the next phase of Victoria’s Roadmap to Deliver the National Plan?
Workforce issues are top-of-mind for leaders in our sector. In Victoria we have already witnessed the impacts of COVID-19 on workforce supply through closed borders, public health restrictions, staff quarantine requirements and the delays with NDIS new worker checks.
Disability services have welcomed the vaccine mandate for disability workers but are anxious about the impact on workforce supply. NDS continues to receive reports of organisations experiencing some staff resignations due to the vaccine mandate.
Providers also report examples of workers leaving to become sole operators. This coincides with the growth of platform-based providers, some of which have attracted significant venture capital investment in recent times.
Pleasingly the delays caused by the NDIS worker screening system appear to be reducing, with many workers applying online receiving their clearance within one to two weeks from application. However, we are still hearing about significant delays with manual applications, with impacts on volunteers for example, who are required to use this system. NDS will assist any providers facing significant delays with applications with direct escalation to government. Please contact Clare Hambly in such instances: submit enquiry/feedback
NDS continues to call for the Victorian Government to change its ‘no check, no start’ policy for new recruits to align with other states and territories which allow new recruits and volunteers to commence in risk-assessed roles if supervised.
Recruitment continues to be a major challenge, as we await the influx of potential recruits as international borders reopen, and the return of international students and migrant workers.
While we have the National Disability Workforce Plan, it is making slow progress, and providers report they have seen little impact to date from the State and Federal disability and care workforce jobs campaigns. Many members report they are prioritising the retention of staff, and rearticulating the clear value proposition, which comes from working with registered providers with a range of employment benefits.
NDS engagement with providers through events such as Communities of Practice, webinars and member meetings, enable providers to share their knowledge and experiences, as well as receive the latest updates on COVID-19 issues impacting the sector.
Increased access to vaccines and vaccination providers including through mobile clinics, pharmacies, extended hours, disability hubs, alongside the expanded Disability Liaison Officer team has been widely acknowledged for raising the uptake of vaccination rates in the sector. The model promoting the DLOs as the single pathways for support with booking or addressing vaccination concerns has been extremely valuable to assist people with disability navigate the vaccination rollout.
NDS is continuing to support Commonwealth and State government efforts to vaccinate people with disabilities. The COVID-19 Vaccine rollout for the Disability Sector remains a key communication tool for the sector in addition to new or updated information shared at all sector meetings and in news updates.
Supporting unvaccinated participants
Providers are navigating the challenges of providing meaningful, safe service delivery to the minority of participants who remain unvaccinated. This is emerging as a significant issue as providers balance the rights of the individuals, NDIS Commission and State Government requirements and implications of infection risks for staff and other people with disabilities.
There are also challenges with working with both employees and clients with medical exemptions.
New NDIS Standards
NDIS has released new practice standards for mealtime management, emergency and disaster management and severe dysphagia management.
The timeframe to meet the new standards is short, however many providers will have existing practices that meet some indicators.
Registered NDIS providers must meet the mealtime management practice standard from Monday 13 December and the emergency and disaster management practice standard from Monday 24 January 2022. For providers with a mid-term or follow-up audit on or after 15 November 2021, NDS suggests making contact with your auditing body for clarification.
NDS and our partners will roll out tools and learning opportunities shortly.
Resilience and wellbeing
The next six months will see NDS support the focus on increasing resilience and healing among providers and staff. There is a sense of fatigue amongst most providers, especially with frontline staff, operating at hypervigilant levels for too long and with isolation requirements increasing pressure and work hours of existing staff members
NDS has been informed that many workers fear getting COVID-19, even if they are double vaccinated. We will need to work on changing mindsets and managing fear to give workers confidence to continue to work in this environment.
The Infection Prevention and Control online course is one tool to build sector worker confidence in their ability to work in the COVID-risk environment, and is being offered at a subsidised rate to Victorian providers.
A number of issues continue to bubble along for Victorian providers in the housing space.
NDS has been working with the sector to advocate for improvements to the DFFH Collaboration Agreement between the Department and Supported Independent Living (SIL) providers operating within DFFH-owned properties. NDS welcomed the Department’s consultative approach and used the opportunity to advocate for a fair and reasonable distribution of responsibilities amongst the Department and SIL providers.
NDS also raised concerns around housing regulation within our recent submission to the Disability Act Review. This argued for a review of the limited options currently available under the Residential Tenancies Act, noting that the current SDA Agreement restricts SDA-funded participants from living with people who do not have SDA funding or are not NDIS participants.
And of course, NDS is acutely aware that cost curbing within the NDIA continues to have a significant impact on SIL providers. NDS continues to advocate for improvements to the SIL funding decision-making process to ensure that participants are provided with secure and stable funding which adequately meets their support needs.
Looking to 2022
NDS is currently scoping out our work for 2022, and keen to hear from providers about the supports and activities most useful to enable disability services effectively respond to the many challenges of this ‘living with covid’ world. Any suggestions, feel free to reach out to me.