Workforce Innovation during COVID-19: Victoria People Solutions
In April 2020, NDS interviewed a number of disability service providers to understand how they are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, all disability service providers have had to innovate, make their service delivery more flexible, and change the way they operate, as well as ensure staff and client wellbeing is supported during this time.
This is a summary of an interview between Anthea Gellie, Senior Policy Officer, NDS and Andrea Walters, Business Manager, of Victoria People Solutions.
Tell us about Victoria People Solutions?
Victoria People Solutions (VPS) are an NDIS Registered Provider servicing the Greater Melbourne area. We offer a wide variety of community support, capacity building and empowerment options to those living with a disability and welcome individuals from all walks of life to join its ever-growing community of inclusion.
The devastating effects that this mandated (but very important) isolation is having on our at-risk clients is quite significant. VPS are finding strong benefit in pure conversation at this point. We are setting up teams of staff to connect with people through phone calls, FaceTime and video conferencing, with flexible hours to ensure that our participants are feeling more supported. We are assisting participants in learning new ways to connect with those that they care about most. We have been achieving this through a combination of methods including the use of different forms of technology, letter writing, sending audio messages, and creating art.
How have you supported your staff?
In terms of staff morale during the pandemic, we feel as though our staff are coming closer together. We have implemented voluntary, twice weekly video links with the only rule being not to talk about work. Instead, we encourage a hot-tip exchange for recipes, Netflix suggestions, ideas for things to keep us entertained and of course everyone’s pets are highly encouraged to show themselves online. We are so proud of our team who continue to shine, support and care for their participants and one another. We continue to seek feedback from our team as to whether what we are doing works well for them and what can be improved.
In terms of training, all of our staff have completed:
- NDIS Support Worker Orientation Module - Quality, Safety and You
- Department of Health – COVID-19 Infection Control
- NDIS Infection Control E-Module
Our staff have also signed off again on VPS' updated Infectious Disease and Infection Control Policy documents. All staff are provided with appropriate resources to ensure correct personal protective equipment (PPE) use.
What have you learned?
We are privileged to continue to extend vital supports during these unprecedented times. Across the last few weekends, we have supported participants to attend music gigs online, such as Isol-aid. We are continuing to assist participants with cooking, connecting, creating and working on their social and independent living skills. We have also been doing grocery drop-offs, and delivering personal care, transport support and domestic supports.
We are supporting participants to access education online, learn yoga practices and meditation, musical instruments and other forms of the performing arts. We are also assisting participants with commencing and maintaining health and fitness routines, creating house financial budgets and savings plans, coach cooking and encouraging fresh air with supported (at safe distance) walks in local parks and safe surrounds. We are continuing to support our participants in connecting with like-minded people with a slight twist of connecting virtually (for now).
We understand that some members of our community may require a flexible solution if they are cared for by loved ones who become ill and need assistance to care for their family member. We want to help wherever we can and note that we are now offering weekend and weekday getaways.
Despite some of our community-based supports being paused for now, we are fortunate enough to still receive referrals; and in more recent times, from new community partners such as hospitals and clinics. VPS have continued to provide a mix of disability and mental health supports; however, our mental health based referrals appear to be on the increase. To describe a median profile for our participants presently, that would be a mix of males and females between the ages of 25 – 50; with dual diagnosis and disability, who are looking to exit from their hospital residential status and return to the community.
We have increased our mental health supports, providing 30 minute or one-hour phone calls, check-ins, writing letters for people who do not like talking on the phone or video. We are dropping in essential items and teaching participants how to use technology to express themselves in this time. We are participating in creating art around feelings, doing acts of kindness in the community, building bears to put in windows, building connection and interaction. We are assisting people to go to online activities such as gigs, gallery visits, art programs, cooking classes, garden projects at distance, creating fairy gardens or outdoor cinemas, and thinking out of the box to come up with new and innovative programs.
What service models will you retain in the recovery phase and beyond?
The service models that VPS plan on retaining are our confidence in working remotely which will allow for further avenues to be explored by way of service expansion, we are going to continue to have our weekly team check-ins as we have learnt so much about each other on a personal and professional level which continues to bring us all closer together. These check-ins have been so beneficial to sharing creative support ideas, strategizing new ways to practice and to feel more connected during these difficult times.
Supporting participants virtually will continue to be a service offering that we continue beyond the mandated restrictions. Supporting individuals by phone, virtually and from afar by other measures has in many ways, provided additional confidence to our participants to connect and share that is different from in person support. Perhaps the present lines of communication are providing a sense of protection and ease.
During the pandemic, our business has been very fortunate to expand upon its mental health service reach and is just weeks away from opening its first Support Independent Living residence, which was not within our business planning until the end of the year.
Living through COVID-19 has been extremely challenging to those in Melbourne, Australia, and indeed the world; however, during times of isolation and forced shut-down, it has afforded opportunities for VPS to reflect, redefine and strengthen its bond with its team, participants and the community. We are forever grateful for the support from our team and community and look forward to paying that forward in our practice.