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  • Aged Care in Australia: Challenges and Opportunities in the Wake of COVID-19

    Author: Felicity Frankish

Aged Care in Australia: Challenges and Opportunities in the Wake of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has left an indelible mark on global healthcare systems, with aged care in Australia being no exception. As the virus rapidly spread across the nation, aged care facilities found themselves at the epicentre of the crisis, grappling with the dual challenge of protecting their vulnerable residents while ensuring the continuity of essential care services. Representing a significant portion of Australia's healthcare landscape, aged care facilities play a pivotal role in catering to the needs of the elderly, a demographic identified as particularly vulnerable to the virus. We delve into the challenges faced by these facilities during the pandemic and explore the silver linings that emerged, offering a beacon of hope for the future of aged care in Australia.

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The Challenges

Immediate Health Concerns
The elderly, with their often compromised immune systems and pre-existing health conditions, have been identified as one of the most at-risk groups for severe complications from COVID-19. This vulnerability posed a significant challenge for aged care facilities, which became hotspots for outbreaks. Many facilities faced the daunting task of managing the spread of the virus among residents while ensuring that those infected received the necessary medical care. The outbreaks not only threatened the health of the residents but also placed immense strain on the resources and infrastructure of these facilities.

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Staffing Issues
Aged care facilities across Australia faced a number of staffing challenges during the pandemic. Many staff members contracted the virus and needed to self-isolate due to exposure, which meant maintaining adequate staffing levels became a significant hurdle. The healthcare workers who continued to serve in these facilities experienced immense emotional and physical strain. The fear of contracting the virus, coupled with the heartbreak of witnessing residents suffer, took a toll on their mental wellbeing.

Mental Health Implications
The necessary restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the virus meant that many elderly residents were isolated from their families and loved ones. This isolation was particularly challenging for those with dementia or other cognitive impairments, who often struggled to understand the restrictions. To help with the increased loneliness, many facilities implemented things such as virtual visits and more in-house social activities to help provide some relief.

Financial Strains
The pandemic brought with it a number of financial challenges for aged care facilities. The increased costs associated with protective equipment, testing, and additional staffing placed a significant amount of pressure on these businesses. While the Australian government rolled out support packages to assist aged care providers during the crisis, questions arose regarding the adequacy of this support, especially in light of the ongoing challenges faced by the sector.

The Opportunities

Technological Advancements
While presenting numerous challenges, the pandemic also accelerated the adoption of technology in healthcare. Telehealth, once a niche service, saw a huge rise during the lockdowns, offering a lifeline for aged care residents (and the general public) to access medical consultations without the risks associated with in-person visits. Along with these virtual consultations, the pandemic saw many more innovative solutions such as remote monitoring devices and wearable health tech that provided caregivers with real-time data on residents' health, ensuring timely interventions and reducing the need for frequent physical check-ups.

Community Engagement
The lockdowns and restrictions highlighted the importance of community in supporting the well-being of aged care residents. From window visits to letter-writing campaigns, communities found creative ways to bridge the gap and keep spirits high during the isolation periods. This renewed sense of community engagement could reshape the future of aged care, with more emphasis on integrating facilities within local communities and fostering stronger ties between residents and their surroundings. This might include more visits coordinated with local schools, preschools and community groups.

Policy Reforms
The challenges of the pandemic also brought to light several areas in need of policy reform within the aged care sector. Lessons learned from managing outbreaks, staffing shortages, and other crises have paved the way for discussions on creating a more resilient and adaptive system. Governments and industry stakeholders are now presented with an opportunity to boost the sector, which even before the COVID outbreak has been historically under-resourced.

Training and Development
The pandemic also highlighted the importance of continuous training for aged care staff, not just in clinical skills but also in areas like infection control and mental health support. With the spotlight on the sector, there's a renewed focus on upskilling and providing professional development opportunities. This emphasis on training ensures that staff are equipped with the latest knowledge and best practices, ultimately leading to improved care outcomes for residents.

The Future of Aged Care

In the face of unprecedented challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, the aged care sector in Australia has demonstrated remarkable resilience and adaptability. The rapid adoption of technological solutions, community engagement, and the potential for meaningful policy reforms all signal a promising future for aged care in the country.

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Felicity Frankish

Flick Frankish is an experienced Editor and Marketing Manager with a demonstrated history of working in the publishing industry. After studying journalism and digital media, she naturally fell into the online world - and hasn't left since!
She is skilled in running successful social media campaigns and generating leads and sales. Combines skills of editing, SEO copywriting, email campaigns and social media marketing for success.

Before moving into the freelance world, Felicity worked as Senior Subeditor at CHILD Magazines, International Marketing Manager at QualityTrade and Marketing Manager for Children’s Tumor Foundation.