Planning and preparation key to Kirrawee aged care facility managing COVID emergency

Safe outcome: General manager Kate Kowalski has praise for
Safe outcome: General manager Kate Kowalski has praise for "a great team effort". Picture: Chris Lane

The Palms Aged Care at Kirrawee was well prepared when a staff member tested positive for COVID-19 on July 19.

Having observed what occurred when the virus found its way into other facilities in Sydney and Melbourne, management had a detailed emergency response plan ready to activate.

As a result, not one resident or any other staff member was infected.

The successful management of the emergency is being attributed to detailed planning and preparation coupled with a great team effort involving their own staff, a specialist team from Sutherland Hospital, the South Eastern Sydney Local Area Health Service, Public Health Unit and federal Health Department.

The staff member who tested positive was both a nursing carer and catering assistant.

When management was advised of the test result, the emergency response plan was activated.

The staff member was placed in isolation in special hospital accommodation and close staff contacts were also in isolation off site.

Residents who were close contacts were isolated and the facility deep cleaned.

All staff and residents were continuously tested during a 14-day full lockdown.

Staff wearing full personal protective equipment continued to care for the residents, all of whom were fully vaccinated.

Operations Manager Mathew Hafford said, from the outset of COVID, The Palms "put a lot of energy and resources" into preparing for any such emergency.

"That planning really played an important role in successfully managing the situation and keeping our residents safe," he said.

Mr Hafford said a facial recognition ID system, which was installed last year, helped them pinpoint very quickly others who potentially could have been infected.

Within a few hours of the positive case being confirmed, management was in a zoom meeting with the local area health service and federal health authorities.

"They were very satisfied with our initial steps and allowed us to continue running our own emergency program," Mr Hafford said.

General Manager Kate Kowalski said, "We want to acknowledge the support we received from our staff, residents and their families, Sutherland Hospital, the local area health service and the Public Health Unit".

"We lost 14 staff who had to isolate, but the others stepped up and worked extremely hard," she said.

"We accommodated a core team at a nearby motel. Our staff were well supported by Sutherland Hospital's Geriatric Flying Squad."

Ms Kowalski said, as at July 20,when the staff member was diagnosed with COVID, 85 per cent of The Palms staff had received at least one vaccination, compared to about 40 per cent industry wide.

"From March, our staff were provided with 1a Rollout eligibility letters, education, information resources and support to make an informed decision about vaccination. In May, we introduced a financial incentive."

The government-imposed deadline for aged care staff vaccination is September 17.