Local News - Victoria

‘Looming’ COVID-19 emergency in disability support homes

“There’s a looming emergency in this sector and we need to be proactive to prevent what’s happened in the aged care sector. We have an obligation to disability support workers, they’ve been the forgotten workforce in this pandemic. Unless we work with them we will have another aged care crisis,” she said.

Professor Kavanagh was the lead researcher in a survey of 357 Australian disability support workers in late May and June which found nearly one in four (23 per cent) had had no coronavirus infection training and of those who had, nearly half (48 per cent) said they wanted more.

“The workforce is scared and they just aren’t resourced to support people in [a COVID-19 infection] situation. They are not a prepared workforce.”

It found that as in aged care, disability support workers cannot physically distance while working. Each worker assisted an average six people each in the week before the survey – but one had work contact with 50.

The national research by the University of Melbourne Disability and Health unit and the UNSW, Canberra, found one third worked in two or more settings and 14 per cent worked in three or more settings. More than four out of five workers (83 per cent) were women.

Two in five (38 per cent) purchased their own masks, and of those who took time off due to illness, less than half were paid. A 2018 report by National Disability Services found Australia had more than 35,000 front line disability workers.

Victorian support worker Kristy said since the day centre she works in closed due to the pandemic she has been working across multiple sites and “every day we get new advice on what to do and that is stressful”.

Workers are unprepared to look after people with disabilities with COVID-19 living in a group home. I feel terribly worried about that.

Professor Anne Kavanagh

“I am worried about protecting the people I work with as many have health problems and if they got COVID they would really be at risk of dying from it,” she said.

“I feel like the government has forgotten about people with disability and support workers. All the attention is on aged care but disability services have the same risks, even worse perhaps because so many of the people have other health problems.”

Professor Kavanagh said it was concerning that so many workers who had had some infection control training “still didn’t feel confident” they knew enough about it and wanted more. “Once you get to using full PPE, which is more than just masks and gloves, it’s a very complicated and difficult thing to do.

“It takes a lot of training; support workers are unprepared to look after people with disabilities with COVID-19 living in a group home. I feel terribly worried about that.”

She said far greater oversight of services and their responses to the pandemic by public health authorities was needed, plus more outbreak preparation and support by medical workers.

“They really need well-trained nursing staff to work alongside workers in these situations. The disability support workforce is really precariously employed and there are all the same risks associated with aged care workers.”

The Disability Support Workers: The Forgotten Workforce in COVID-19 report, which contains 11 recommendations to help disability support workers prevent, prepare for and respond to coronavirus infection in group homes, will be released today.

Among the recommendations are:

  • Governments update guidelines regarding PPE use among disability support workers, particularly in areas of high community transmission.
  • Governments reach out to workers to provide required training and clear information about whether, when, and how PPE is used, including on-site training with specialised infection control nurses.
  • Workers in high community transmission areas should have access to appropriate PPE (minimum of masks) without cost to them.
  • Disability support workers are made a priority group for testing along with healthcare and aged care workers.
  • Paid pandemic leave is available to all disability support workers who do not have access to paid sick leave and need to self-isolate or quarantine.
  • Governments and providers ensure workers minimise the number of people they support and numbers of settings they work in to reduce transmission risk.
  • Skilled healthcare workers be put on standby for rapid deployment to work with or replace support service workers for clients infected with COVID-19 as has been done in aged care.
  • Options are considered to temporarily rehouse residents in group homes where infections have occurred, to separated infected and non-infected residents.

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Local News - Victoria

Three police who assaulted disability pensioner spared jail

Ms Lamble ordered the incident be recorded without conviction and that Edney and Hilgart pay $1000 to the court fund and McLeod $3500.

On Wednesday, magistrate Cathy Lamble told the accused that they hard “hardly bothered to try and talk [the victim] down” and instead had taken a “confrontational approach” from the outset of their visit.

“I am horrified by images of [the victim] on the ground with six police officers restraining him,” Ms Lamble said.

“There is no apology from the accused for this horror.”

She said their policing career had been thrown into doubt and that the trio already been punished by the lengthy legal proceedings, the media coverage of their assault and potential repercussions from the police force.

The officers’ offending was aggravated by the fact that they were serving police officers at the time of the assaults and that their victim was vulnerable, disabled and had been capsicum sprayed.

Ms Lamble also said they did not express remorse because they maintained a plea of not guilty and that there was no evidence of them empathising with the pain they had inflicted on John.

The trio and three other officers went to John’s home after his psychologist called triple zero due to concerns about his mental health.

The officers ended up pinning John down on the lawn and restraining him.

As the 36-year-old lay on the ground, he was struck to the leg with an extendable baton, punched in the stomach, had his head stood on and capsicum spray used on him from close range. He then had water blasted in his face from a high-pressure hose.


John told the court last week the three guilty officers had beaten and traumatised him when he should have been treated with dignity because of his mental health problems.

At the time he was withdrawing from opioids he took for chronic back pain. He has since been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety.

McLeod was found guilty of three charges of unlawful assault over his use of capsicum spray from close range, for punching John in the stomach and then directing Hilgart to use the hose on the pensioner.

After using the capsicum spray, McLeod told John, “Did you like that? Did you like that? Smells good, doesn’t it?”

Principal solicitor at Robinson Gill, Jeremy King, who represented John in his civil case, said although his client was still very fearful of police, the sentence was an important lesson for officers who deal with vulnerable people like his client.

“The story should be a positive one, it’s a shining example of independent oversight and how it can hold officers to account where they misuse their considerable powers,” Mr King said.

“It’s not about revenge, it’s always been about shining a light on what happened here.

“It goes to making sure the police take a compassionate approach to dealing with people with mental health issues,” he said.

Victoria’s Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission investigated the assault after The Age published CCTV footage of the incident. The footage recorded by John’s CCTV cameras formed the basis for the magistrate’s verdicts, as she considered the pensioner was not a witness of truth.

Ms Lamble delivered her verdicts from Heidelberg Magistrates Court as the officers watched via video link.

John previously sued police and received a payout last year.

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Australian News

Disability care provider forced to retract discriminatory advert

A Melbourne disability care provider has come under fire for posting a job ad that discouraged “dark-skinned” people from applying.

Absolute Care and Health, based in South Yarra, posted the vacancy on website on Monday.

“We request no dark-skinned (Indian or African) applicant apply for this role,” the ad read.

It went on to say it was due to a “client request”.

The post sparked outrage in Melbourne’s Indian and African communities, so much so it has since been removed by the company.

RELATED: Report points to flaw in disability care

RELATED: Sydney disability carer charged over alleged abuse of vulnerable people

“I felt really, really angry when I saw the ad,” Meenu Chandran, a social worker who had previously worked in the disability care sector, told SBS Malayalam.

She said she had reported the job ad to the Australian Human Rights Commission.

“It is outright discriminatory. I was thinking that people would learn from what is happening in the US with (George) Floyd case, but they didn’t,” she said.

Barbara Ould, the chief executive of Absolute Care and Health, has since acknowledged the ad was discriminatory and offensive.

“On 22nd June, we published a job advertisement which regrettably contained information that was discriminatory and has caused offence,” she told SBS Malayalam in a statement.

“We are deeply saddened and sorry for this unintentional, serious error and for the offence and distress it has caused.”

“It happened as a result of an extreme failure in our internal processes and we are so very deeply sorry for the offence and distress that our error has caused,” Ms Ould said in a statement to Daily Mail Australia.

“As soon as we discovered that the advertisement had been posted, we quickly removed it; published an apology on our website; apologised personally to those who had viewed the advert and those who contacted us with their concerns; and, started an investigation as to how it happened.”

Section 24 of Victoria’s Equal Opportunity Act 2010 makes it legal for an employer to discriminate upon who they offer employment to in relation to care and other domestic and personal work within their home, or in the case of business, in the home of the person they provide services for.

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Australian News

Sydney disability worker under investigation for alleged abuse of adults and children in his care

A 20-year-old disability worker is facing several serious charges, after he allegedly recorded sexually abusive videos of two children.

Detectives have charged the disability carer with 16 offences following an investigation into the alleged abuse of vulnerable adults and children in Sydney’s west.

Last month, detectives from Surry Hills Police Area Command established Strike Force Hendra to investigate suspected abuse of residents at a disability care home in Mount Druitt, acting on information gathered from an unrelated investigation.

Following extensive inquiries, investigators attended a business in Parramatta and arrested a 20-year-old man about 1pm Friday.

The man’s mobile phone was seized for forensic examination.

A search warrant was executed at a house in Eastern Creek, where relevant to the ongoing investigation were seized.

The man was taken to Parramatta Police Station and charged with 11 counts of intentionally recording intimate images without consent, producing child abuse material, possessing child abuse material, intentionally sexually touching a child under 10 years and two counts of common assault.

Police will allege in court the man filmed intimate videos of five residents while in his care.

The alleged videos captured physical and verbal abuse in incidents that occurred between June 2019 and April 2020.

It will be further alleged he recorded intimate and sexually abusive videos of two children aged between four and twelve.

Addressing the media on Saturday, Detective Chief Inspector Adam Johnson said the crime was a severe breach of trust of those in the man’s care.

“The victims that were alleged in this matter are the most vulnerable members in our community. The person the allegations are made against was in an absolute position of responsibility and they have breached that trust in the worst possible scenario.

“Very vulnerable members of the community that really rely on those people that are put in positions to care for them, and it’s disgusting behaviour.”

Detective Johnson also confirmed that police first came across the alleged offender late last year in relation to another investigation.

“Surry Hills Police originally came across this male late last year in a proactive approach, in a vehicle. He was charged with a number of drug-related offences,” he confirmed, adding, “Those matters are also before the court.”

The Eastern Creek man was refused bail to appear before Parramatta Bail Court on Saturday, May 2.

He has since been stood down from his position at the care home.

The investigation is ongoing.

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