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Family carers burdened by the COVID pandemic

Home carers tested throughout the pandemic.

In 2020, many aged care facilities stopped using external agency staff and used their own direct contracted staff. Aged care staff in Victoria work across multiple facilities. However, due to the pandemic the Australian Government made a ruling that staff could only work at a single facility, leaving homes short-staffed.

During the second outbreak in Victoria that saw outbreaks and many deaths in nursing home, it struck fear into many worried about their loved ones. As a result of this, many families had members who had lost their jobs during the lockdown were then recruited to look after the elderly family members, while services and programs were stopped.

For home care giver Patricia Fratantuono looking after her terminally ill father for these many years has already been tough and the last thing she needed was a pandemic that forced not one but two lockdowns.

“As soon as the pandemic begun, our doctor told us we had to isolate him, and it was really hard. It took a toll, not just on me but also on my parents, who I care for. The hardest thing probably was not being able to see the rest of our family members.” she tells upstart

Everyone in the community struggled in many different ways, but for Fratantuono, to keep her parents healthy and safe, isolation meant cutting back support services.

“Then as weeks went on and the second lockdown occurred, some services were cut by organisations altogether to keep their staff and us safe, which is understandable, but it put more pressure on me and the rest of the family to help where possible.”

Family members had to step up and take on more responsibilities. It meant being more physically involved to support their everyday needs.

“I am very grateful that my daughters helped with doing the groceries, going to the chemist and helping with respite are,” she says.

Chief Executive Peter Kelly, from Inplace Care platform, gives clients a chance to search for carers and negotiate a care program for those in their car. During the pandemic, the organisation stopped operating for a period of time due to services not being used and carers/families choose to do more things on their own.

“Our business went into hiatus in June 2020 until December 2020, when we relaunched the business and started getting interest again,” he tells upstart.

Home Instead, like many other aged care organisations, was able to continue to support home carers and provide services. Georgia Downes, Home Instead’s managing director, said that they were able to adjust their services to be in line with all lockdowns and COVID19 guidelines.

“We continued to provide all services during COVID, that is high-quality in-home care and support,” she tells upstart.

According to Downs, this included keeping all communications channels open and providing up-to-date information along with providing personal protective equipment (PPE).

Having multiple communication channels open allows for carers to feel supported not just physically but mentally and emotionally. Fratantuono says she is very thankful for the support she has received while she looks after her father.

“I have heard so many stories of carers getting depressed, especially when someone they care for passes away. Having someone ring and just ask me if I’m doing okay is such a nice thing and I think that has helped me stay positive during the tough times,” she says

Since the pandemic begun, Inplace Care and Home Instead have had a rise in new clients and enquiries about home support. This is due to the amount of deaths in nursing homes that occurred during the second wave of the pandemic in Victoria in 2020. The second wave saw 678 deaths that were linked to an aged care facility COVID19 outbreak. Many families fear if another outbreak in an aged care facility were to occur, some loved ones would not survive.

“We had many enquiries from families and their loved ones in relation to engaging our services. Either as an alternative to moving into an aged care facility or to provide companionship for isolated seniors due to the boarder restrictions,” Downes says.

With restrictions easing in 2021, home care services have increased again and home carers finally get a sense of normality back with the extra support.

“The industry is slowly rebuilding, and we have no doubt that the demand for home care support, especially for elderly people suffering social isolation, will continue to grow throughout the coming year,” Kelly says.

Article: Monica Di Battista is a post-graduate Master of Journalism Innovation student at La Trobe University. You can follow her on twitter @mondibatt

Photo: Dr Munguntsetseg and Australian Volunteer Diane Anthony talk with family members of patients at Mongolia’s National Cancer Centre. Taken by Red Cross Volunteers at work can be found HERE and used under a Creative Commons Attribution. The image has not been modified.

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