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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With 2023 Women’s World Cup host announcement looming, Australian football really needs a win

“Once bitten, twice shy” does not do justice to the lingering pain of the Australian football community 10 years after the humiliation of the botched 2022 FIFA World Cup bid.

How about once smashed over the head with a tyre lever, kneed in the crotch on the way down and kicked to a bloody pulp on the pavement, twice shy?

This is how Australian football fans felt in December 2010, as news leaked that all Australia’s government-funded planning, back-room conniving and dubious political pandering had resulted in just one measly vote.

Accordingly, as we wait for the result of the seemingly more edifying joint Australia-New Zealand bid for the 2023 Women’s World Cup bid to be announced this week, even Japan’s withdrawal late on Monday night won’t have eased the nerves of the bidding team.

The Australian-New Zealand bid was recently rated the most technically proficient, the Anzac alliance means both the Asian and Oceania Confederations are given a World Cup.

Meanwhile, there seems little likelihood the one remaining rival, Colombia, has engaged in the kind of chicanery exposed after Russia and Qatar were granted the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

Sepp Blatter announces Qatar as host for the 2022 World Cup
The decision to award the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar prompted investigations.(REUTERS: Christian Hartmann)

But this is a FIFA vote, so the memories of how Australia’s bidders foolishly danced with the game’s devils and suffered third-degree burns linger, while you can’t help fretting about the behind-the-scenes machinations of the still-Machiavellian governing body.

As former Football Federation Australia (FFA) bid team member turned respected whistleblower Bonita Mersiades wrote on the Football Today site, unlike the 2018/2022 bids there is more transparency about how much each of the 2023 bids would earn for FIFA.

The $US77 million ($112 million) commitment by the Australian and New Zealand Governments makes them an attractive proposition.

Although — look out for that tyre lever! — Mersiades also notes the strong links between FIFA president Gianni Infantino and the Colombian bid, the murky presence of Asian Football Confederation boss Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim al-Khalifa, the unpredictability of how the 34 votes will fall and, well, a bunch of other problematic factors in the shady and often impenetrable world of football politics.

Such grim realities are juxtaposed with the image Australian football fans long to see on Friday morning — a beaming Sam Kerr or Lydia Williams talking about what playing a World Cup at home will mean to them.

Women's football player Samantha Kerr takes a selfie with fans in the stands.
A recent study found the Matildas were one of the national most widely loved national teams in Australia.(Australian Story: Jennifer Feller)

At a time when Australian football has suffered a significant loss of revenue due to the A-League’s diminished media rights deal, and a resultant crisis in confidence, it is difficult to underestimate the value sharing the Women’s World Cup would bring.

There is the obvious benefit for women’s football and women’s sport generally. The sight of incredible players and role models including Kerr’s Matildas and the bold American team, perhaps still including the charismatic Megan Rapinoe, who wants to contest a fourth World Cup.

But it is not far-fetched to suggest co-hosting the 2023 Women’s World Cup could provide generational benefits for Australian football as a whole if it is well leveraged by the FFA’s still relatively new administration.

The 2015 Asian Cup management team did an excellent job in reaching out to ethnic groups with local communities energised to support their team or adopt one that was playing in their city.

But even as Ange Postecoglou’s Socceroos lifted the trophy, there seemed no ongoing link between those flag-waving fans and the higher echelons of Australia’s “new football” — a consequence of the now-discredited decision to deprive the A-League of “ethnic” affiliations.

Hopefully by the time Australia and New Zealand hosts the 2023 World Cup, bridges would have been built across the game with the development of second tiers in both the A-League and W-League creating links between the upper echelon and the local clubs who remain football’s greatest advocates.

The COVID-19 shutdown seems likely to take football back to the winter months, perhaps permanently. (The 2023 World Cup is scheduled for July 10 to August 20.)

The fear from those who advocate a summer A-League and W-League is that the game cannot withstand competition with the most popular domestic codes; that it would be deprived of media oxygen and both live and TV audiences by the AFL and NRL and forced to play on surfaces torn up by shared usage.

The obvious answer to those concerns: How is summer going for you, then?

Elise Kellond-Knight and her Matildas teammates celebrate scoring a goal
Australia’s 2019 Women’s World Cup campaign had its moments but fell short of lofty expectations.(Reuters: Jean-Paul Pelissier)

The bold statement of FFA chief executive James Johnson to Nine Media that “we shouldn’t be worrying about what other sports are doing” was refreshing because it spoke of a sport looking to shape its own future, not squeeze into what little space is left.

One that might, for instance, use the 2023 Women’s World Cup to lobby for the development of smaller training venues that could be used exclusively by second-tier (perhaps even first-tier) football teams after the event.

This is the kind of excitement and imagination hosting such a big tournament can inspire.

Although, after the trauma of the 2022 bid, you can forgive any Australian football fan for hiding in the basement until the winner is announced.

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Coronavirus Australia live update: PM warns ‘difficult decisions’ looming, while NSW says it will punish businesses breaking rules – The Guardian

Coronavirus Australia live update: PM warns ‘difficult decisions’ looming, while NSW says it will punish businesses breaking rules  The Guardian

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