Coronavirus Up to Date Information for Staff

Last Updated: 15 April 2020

Coronavirus contact: Brett Menzies 0408 562 498 or brett.menzies@respect.com.au.

Please use this page for the most up to date staff information regarding the Coronavirus. This page will be regularly updated. It has become exceedingly apparent that traditional methods of communication are failing during the recent outbreak of Coronavirus. Respect has created this page as a single source of truth for staff and volunteers regarding the Coronavirus and steps Respect are taking to minimise the risk to staff and our residents.

Current Status

There are currently no suspected or active cases in any aged care home.

What is Coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from symptoms similar to the common cold to more severe respiratory conditions. Coronavirus is a new strain that was discovered in 2019 and has not been previously identified in humans. As such, we have no pre-existing immunity to the virus.

What symptoms should I expect if I contract Coronavirus?

Common symptoms include fever, coughing, sore throat, fatigue, and shortness of breath. Symptoms take an average of five days to begin. This differs to flu viruses which tend to incubate very quickly. The virus is transmitted by breathing in droplets that go into the air during coughing and sneezing. The virus needs to be in living beings to survive, however, it will survive on surfaces and appropriate cleaning and disinfectant should be applied.

If you have serious symptoms such as difficulty breathing, call 000 for urgent medical help.

What should I do if I experience any of the above symptoms?

Call the Coronavirus Health Information Line for advice on 1800 020 080. Staff with any of the above symptoms must make contact with their General Manager immediately via phone or call Brett Menzies on 0408 562 498. Please do not attend work under any circumstance until Respect advise that it is safe to do so.

Will I be tested for Coronavirus if I have flu-like symptoms and work in aged care?

Any staff member who has cold or flu like symptoms must not attend work under any circumstance. Any staff member with a fever, or recent history of a fever, or symptoms of acute respiratory infection (e.g. cough, sore throat, runny nose, shortness of breath) must report their symptoms to the facility, and be tested for Coronavirus prior to returning to work. This has been mandated by the Australian Government.

If employees test negative for Coronavirus they will need to follow our usual protocol of staying at home for 72 hours post symptoms. If employees test positive for Coronavirus they will need to self isolate 14 days post symptoms.

If you are not taken seriously, please be firm with the operator that you are an aged care worker, and it is required by law. If you do not receive a favourable response, please contact your General Manager.

What should I do if I have been exposed to someone who has a confirmed case of the Coronavirus?

Call the Coronavirus Health Information Line for advice on 1800 020 080. Once advice has been obtained, please make contact with your General Manager via phone or call Brett Menzies on 0408 562 498. Please do not attend work under any circumstance until Respect advise that it is safe to do so.

Should I be concerned about working in aged care?

No, you are no more at risk working in the aged care industry than any other industry. There is a lot of misinformation in the media and on social media. Respect is speaking with the very best experts in the area of epidemiology and public health and has more useful information than the general public.

The risk of persons under 65 experiencing complex symptoms requiring hospitalisation is low. Of all people who contract the virus, 81% have mild symptoms which include, sore throat, dry cough, and fever.

People at risk of developing complex symptoms requiring hospitalisation are those with pre-existing conditions including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, hypertension, and cancer. Furthermore, it seems that people over 65 and who have these conditions are in the highest risk category of severe disease and potential death. This is our residents, not our staff.

The vast majority of staff, their children, and most people in our communities are at very low risk of suffering severe symptoms. It is inevitable that this virus will become widespread, with our understanding that transmission will escalate over the coming weeks, and will most probably last throughout the winter. There will be a large number of us who contract the virus, recover and return to work. We should be cautious, keep healthy, eat well, sleep well, wash our hands, and be vigilant but we need to be mentally tough and sensible over the next six months through the inevitable public hysteria. We, the healthy ones, have to care for our residents.

The executive team are prepared to work in direct resident care in the event we can assist. We are not afraid of the virus. We recognise that everyone in the company has their role to play in ensuring direct resident care is not compromised in what is a difficult time for you, the residents, and this country over the coming months. Never before in aged care history have our residents needed you as much as they do now. They are at risk, and they should be afraid, not us. This is not a time for us to be fearful, it is time for us to be strong so we can protect and care for our residents.

Why will my temperature be taken upon commencing a shift? 

As recommended, Respect will be moving to a process of checking the temperature of all staff members prior to commencing their shift. Any employee with a temperature of more than 37.5 degrees will not be permitted on-site and will be asked to contact the public health hotline.

What to do if you are concerned due to having a chronic disease or other relevant medical condition?

Coronavirus is more severe for people who have chronic diseases such as heart and lung conditions. If you have a chronic disease or other relevant medical condition, please don’t hesitate to call Brett Menzies on 0408 562 498 or email brett.menzies@respect.com.au so we know who you are, and so we can keep you safe in the event of an outbreak.

Does Respect have an action plan in the event of a confirmed case of Coronavirus or an outbreak?

Please know that Respect has a detailed action plan for the following scenarios which we hope do not eventuate but must plan for regardless:

  1. Precautionary actions (what we’re doing now).
  2. Suspected Coronavirus case.
  3. Confirmed Coronavirus case.
  4. Coronavirus outbreak.

Please be assured that through each of these phases, we are prepared, and will be on the front foot in regard to the safety of our staff and residents.

What support is available if I feel stressed or anxious?

We understand that staff may feel extra stress during the Coronavirus outbreak. This is a normal response in these unprecedented circumstances. Such feelings are not a sign of weakness and it’s important to acknowledge this. There are practical ways to manage your mental health during this time, including getting enough rest, eating healthy, engaging in physical activity and taking time out to self-care. If you are experiencing feelings of unease or require emotional support during this difficult time, we would encourage you to speak with your Manager or seek assistance from one of the following confidential support service providers:

Beyond Blue – www.beyondblue.org.au, 1300 224 636

Lifeline – www.lifeline.org.au, 13 11 14

Staff are also able to access our employee assistance programme that is provided by Choose Life Services (CLS).  CLS can be contacted on 1300 132 098 if calling from Tasmania or 03 6423 3181 if calling from Victoria.

When will Respect be providing staff with flu vaccinations?

From 1 May, all staff will be required to receive a mandatory flu vaccination as a requirement for employment in the aged care sector. This has been mandated by the Australian Government. Respect is providing free flu vaccinations to all staff and each facility has already scheduled on-site vaccination days or made alternative arrangements.

If for some reason you do not attend one of the on-site vaccinations at your facility, you must provide evidence to your General Manager prior to 1 May. Evidence of immunisation status must either be a statement or record from a health practitioner, or an immunisation history statement available from Medicare online or the Express Plus Medicare mobile app.

Immunisation is not a choice if you work in aged care. If you have a medical reason as to why you cannot be vaccinated then a letter must be provided from a specialist health practitioner (not a GP) stating that you have a medical contra-indication to influenza vaccine. Again, this must be provided to your General Manager prior to 1 May. If you have already provided a letter or certificate from your GP, you will need to gain further written evidence from a specialist. Refusal on religious grounds is not an acceptable reason.

What should I do if I am currently overseas or plan to travel overseas in the near future?

On 24 March, the Australian Government announced a ban on all overseas travel, with a few exceptions. Australians have also been advised to avoid non-essential travel within Australia. Please note that self-isolation requirements have now been implemented in a number of states and territories. If you are currently overseas or planning to travel overseas in the near future, in accordance with the few exceptions, please advise Respect via email to brett.menzies@respect.com.au  Individual contact will then be made with the individual. Staff that have already advised Respect of their future travel that are now unable to travel are requested to email people@respect.com.au.

If you choose to travel overseas, within the few exceptions, we recommend you consider:

  1. If you have enough annual leave or long service leave for the additional 14 days required for self-isolation, and if you are prepared to take unpaid leave if you don’t;
  2. In the event you get sick or injured overseas, if the destinations health system has (or will have in the future) the capacity to provide care;
  3. The possibility that you may also be quarantined at the destination country (now or in the future); and
  4. Consider the government refusing to offer consular assistance in the event of an emergency.

Tasmanian staff only – What should I do if I am currently on the mainland or plan to travel out of Tasmania in the near future?

The Tasmanian Government has declared that from 20 March, anyone arriving into Tasmania will be required to self-isolate for 14 days. This includes Tasmanian residents returning home to Tasmania. Whilst the self-isolation will not apply to essential travelers, including health care workers, at this stage, we are not sure how this will apply to aged care.

If you have upcoming travel, we recommend you contact your General Manager also as consideration will need to be given as to whether we are able to approve for an additional 14 days to be added to your approved annual leave or long service leave, prior to you leaving. Please note that self-isolation requirements have now been implemented in a number of states and territories, not just Tasmania.

Can I cancel my upcoming annual leave or long service leave?

We recommend that ALL staff who have planned leave in the next three months, reconsider taking that leave. It is our advice that staff absenteeism could increase by 20-30% in the event of widespread transmission. In such a circumstance our residents need ALL staff available to be able to continue to meet their needs. If you are in a position to cancel your upcoming leave please contact your General Manager as soon as possible.

For the same reasons as above, all further annual leave requests will not be approved unless there exists a compelling reason for taking such leave. Exceptions to this will be managed by your General Manager with the assistance of Brett Menzies (Chief Operating Officer) and Nick Adams (People and Culture Manager).

What are my leave entitlements in relation to self-isolation or in the event that I become unwell?

Please refer to the attached table. In some situations, there are more than one option available. Respect will contact affected staff where unpaid leave is the default entitlement.

Why have we locked down our aged care homes?

Respect is committed, so far as is reasonably practicable, to provide staff and volunteers with a safe working environment. As of Tuesday, 17 March 2020 all Respect aged care homes will be in lockdown until further notice, with all access from the public (including friends and family) prohibited except in exceptional circumstances.

It’s important to understand that we are not doing this because of any current cases that we are aware of, it is purely a preventative measure. We value our staff and resident safety above everything else and believe that it is important to take this proactive approach to keep all safe. In limiting visits from the community we are preventing one potential source of transmission. The Coronavirus puts elderly people at high risk, particularly those with certain pre-existing conditions. Current statistics show that of people aged 80 and over who contract the virus, 20 percent pass away, with many of those having pre-existing conditions including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, hypertension, and cancer.

Visitors who are allowed entry due to exceptional circumstances will be asked to complete a questionnaire and will have their temperature taken. They will then be required to be escorted to their loved one’s room. They will not be allowed to see other residents nor will they be allowed to use or be in communal spaces such as dining and lounge rooms. We ask that all staff take this directive seriously, under no circumstances can casual visits be allowed on-site at any hour. If you are challenged please contact your General Manager. We cannot stress how important it is for us to prevent this virus from entering our facilities.

We are still accepting new admissions, however, they will need to be isolated for 14 days in their room. Any resident, which includes those who are attending external appointments, will need to return to the facility into 14 days of isolation.

We understand that these extraordinary measures will create some frustration and anxiety for residents and their loved ones. We are developing the capacity for video chat facilities to be available for all sites as well as regular phone contact etc. We ask all staff to continue to provide the exceptional care that you are known for as we prepare to meet the upcoming crisis

Can a resident request a visitor and if so under what circumstance?

We are remaining in lockdown until further notice. Staff are not authorised to allow access on-site to any visitor under any circumstance. In some circumstances, Respect may allow visitation. Prior authorisation must be obtained by the General Manager from Brett Menzies. Approval will only be granted on the following grounds:

  1. End of life care.
  2. A resident is experiencing significant stress due to visitation restrictions. This is not if a family member is stressed, it is if the resident is.

Visitors will be required to:

Hand Hygiene

We know that all staff have been adhering to the handwashing message as we have used six weeks of alcohol-based handwash in about three weeks. This is great to see! We encourage everyone to still please concentrate on this method of transmission prevention as much as possible.

Wash your hands;

(Also, before and after work, before and after you go on break and before and after you log on to work).

Please see the following video for proper hand hygiene using the WHO method.

Cough and Sneeze Etiquette

Please see the following poster for proper cough and sneeze etiquette.

Social Distancing

Social distancing is an important way to mitigate the risks of the virus in the community.