Sarah's Soundbite: September 2021
In the wake of the Victorian Government’s recent change of strategy in response to COVID-19, from elimination to suppression while we take up vaccinations, NDS's Safer and Stronger project is repositioning. We are now turning our minds to how NDS can best support the disability sector to prepare, as Victoria plans to open up to COVID-19 in line with the National Plan. Once 80 percent of eligible people are double vaccinated, the Plan indicates we will relax restrictions and learn to ‘live with COVID-19'. This may occur late 2021, or perhaps, early 2022.
The prospect of ‘living with COVID-19' raises an array of issues. Firstly, how can we ensure that people with disability, currently lagging in vaccine take-up, are supported to achieve the highest vaccination rates. Supports such as the Disability Liaison Officers who help people with disability book and access vaccinations, and the new online group bookings form will all be important.
Other questions arising include: the availability of surge workforces, especially in regional areas; options for alternate accommodation for COVID-19 positive residents; implications of mandatory vaccines for workers; potential for rapid antigen testing in our sector; quarantine requirements for workers; need for ongoing use of PPE and mobility restrictions; and how we will address the fear and anxiety of both participants and workers in the event of COVID-19 spreading rapidly.
NDS will be leading a series of conversations with providers to scope such issues. We will work to provide information, resources, collaboration, and advocacy to support the sector through the months ahead. Stay posted to see how you can take part, and check in regularly to the Events and Training on the NDS website.
I am confident that by working together and engaging with the government and NDIA, providers will work through what comes next and find solutions.
We’ve seen evidence of this in Shepparton during recent weeks. NDS in partnership with BLCW was able to collaborate with providers impacted by the outbreak, using lessons we learned last year to identify issues, assist providers, and facilitate sharing of information. It was gratifying to see a major provider from outside the region offering staff and resources. This experience gives us lessons to take forward for a model for how regional areas can respond to future COVID-19 outbreaks.
Over the coming weeks, there is an opportunity for organisations to ensure business continuity systems are in place, undertake scenario planning and prepare for the expected surge in cases. The NDS Victorian COVID-19 Toolkit hosts resources to help with Business Continuity, Infection Protection and Control and Mental Health and Wellbeing. I particularly recommend viewing the 7-minute video from the excellent NDS Resilience and Wellbeing session. Our Vaccine FAQs are regularly updated and the template vaccine uptake and hesitancy survey allows providers to gauge worker attitudes and uptake of the vaccines. The Immediate Response document is a checklist for the first 24 hours following a positive COVID-19 outbreak in a disability setting in Victoria and the Snap Lockdown Checklist assists in preparing for a sudden lockdown.
The disability workforce continues to be a major issue for services, with widespread reports of workforce shortages, recruitment delays caused by NDIS Checks, ongoing challenges with achieving adequate training and supervision, and the impact of the pandemic and lockdowns on mental health and fatigue. Creating an enabling work environment has never been more important. It has emerged as one of the key disability workforce challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic and is one of the NDIS Capabilities in the new National Framework. NDS has commissioned Yumi Stamet of Purpose at Work to present three free workshops in October on psychological safety and wellbeing, connecting and engaging, and stimulating and supporting.
Another upcoming forum addressing a current workforce challenge is Exploring solutions to Allied Health workforce shortages on 15 September. This will showcase strategies used by some disability services to recruit allied health workers, and provide an opportunity for others to discuss and reflect on these approaches.
The issue of mandatory vaccines for disability workers is another current issue. NDS is keen to work with providers on applying directions relating to mandatory vaccines once they are introduced in Victoria. At this stage, there has been no commitment to mandatory vaccines by the Victorian Government.
Meet the State Committee
Victorian NDS members are invited to meet our new Victorian State Committee. We welcome Hayley Dean, Phil Hayes-Brown and Natasha Williams to the committee and farewell Kerry Uren, Executive Officer, Interchange Network. Kerry has made a valuable contribution over the past three years to the Committee, and we thank her for her contribution. This meeting with the State Committee will be an opportunity to meet with sector leaders and raise your current concerns to inform NDS advocacy.