Coronavirus: AUSMAT to be sent in as Andrews declares 'no confidence' in privately-run aged care facilities

A resident is taken away in an ambulance from Epping Gardens Aged Care Facility in Epping on Tuesday. Picture: Getty Images
A resident is taken away in an ambulance from Epping Gardens Aged Care Facility in Epping on Tuesday. Picture: Getty Images

The federal government is sending in the "SAS of the medical world" as part of efforts to staff aged care facilities in Victoria, as the state government moves to take over the running of some privately-run aged care facilities.

State and federal health authorities are racing to stop the spread of coronavirus in aged care facilities in Victoria as deaths increased again overnight, moving residents to private and public hospitals and using state-employed registered nurses, defence personnel and the Australian Medical Assistance Teams (AUSMAT) to staff the centres.

Joe Buffone, leader of the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre, said authorities were moving residents to hospitals to deal with the lack of staff, but also facing capacity issues in hospitals.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has defended aged care workers, saying the cause of the outbreaks in the centres was due to the breaches in hotel quarantine that led to community transmission.

State and federal leaders have assured the public they are working together on the crisis but have taken veiled swipes at each other in press conferences on Tuesday.

Premier Daniel Andrews said the Commonwealth government had requested assistance from the state government in the running of the facilities, where 769 cases are related to privately-run aged care facilities.

"I cannot stand here and tell you that I have confidence that staff and management across a number of private sector aged care facilities are able to provide the care that is appropriate to keep their residents safe," Mr Andrews told reporters.

"If I could say that, I would."

Another six people have died in the state, four of which were residents in aged care facilities. The high number of staff who are infected and others that are isolating due to exposure has forced the government to cancel the majority of elective surgeries so nurses can be transferred to the facilities.

Even though aged care is a federal responsibility, Mr Andrews said both levels of government were working together on the response.

"We need to make sure families have got much better transparency, residents have got much better care, and that we are doing everything we possibly can."

Plans are underway to move residents of aged care facilities to hospitals, but it is unclear how many will be moved. Outreach groups of registered nurses will also be going in to aged care facilities to provide care for those that can't or shouldn't be moved.

Mr Andrews said defence personnel who were door knocking to ensure people infected with the virus were at home were finding some people not at home, calling it a "real concern".

Earlier, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced he was cutting short a trip to Queensland and returning to Canberra to deal with the aged care crisis in Victoria, where defence personnel have manned a shift at an understaffed facility overnight.

More than 80 aged care facilities in Victoria now have cases of coronavirus, some with dozens of cases among residents and staff.

Speaking at a seafood business in Queensland, Mr Morrison said the situation in Victoria is "very complex" and the stand-downs of large numbers of the aged care workforce had created a significant disruption to the system.

"It's very difficult and it's very hard to get people into those positions, particularly given the complexity and difficulty of the situations they're facing," he said.

"And last night in particular we had ADF officers, nurses, being put into a night shift in a Melbourne facility, and we were able to arrange that quite late in the evening, about 11pm. And so there is no effort being spared to ensure that we can get the people to the places they need to be."

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Acknowledging the failings in communicating with families of people in aged care facilities in Melbourne, Mr Morrison said Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck had been tasked with ensuring families were engaged.

"We had planned to be here over several days, but the escalation of the workforce challenges necessitates me to return," Mr Morrison said.

"The workforce issues are very challenging and that's why it's important that the workforce, the nursing workforce in both private and public hospitals is available to support those needs. That can be with the direct transfer of residents who have become residents into those facilities, or otherwise freeing up those nursing staff availabilities to support in those aged care centres."

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This story 'SAS of the medical world' to help staff privately-run aged care facilities first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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