Ryman Healthcare has known from the outset that keeping staff safe from COVID-19 is absolutely crucial to protecting residents from Coronavirus. With 34 retirement villages in New Zealand and two in Melbourne, Ryman is home to 11,700 residents with 6000 staff.
As the experience of the aged care industry in Victoria has shown, staff, turning up to work sick or working for a number of different facilities, or living with other healthcare workers, is a massive risk factor.
That is why Ryman has implemented a range of measures at their villages in both Victoria and New Zealand to ensure staff are incentivised to stay away from work if they pose a risk. Any team member who has any COVID-19 symptoms is required to remain off-work and to get tested. If their test comes back negative, they are then requested to stay off work for 14 days and until all symptoms have resolved.
“We are supporting any team members who need to be off work as a precaution – so they are not financially penalised for doing the right thing,” said David King, Ryman Healthcare Corporate Affairs Manager.
Staff are wearing face masks and changing into their uniforms at work so that their uniforms stay on site. Staff whose home environment poses a COVID-19 risk (for example, a family member might work at a different aged care facility, or they might feel unsafe using public transport to get to work) are offered the option to move into apartments at their village. More than a dozen staff have taken up that offer at the Nellie Melba and Weary Dunlop villages in Melbourne, with more about to join them.
“As frontline workers, they are also being given free meals, and we have given them grocery vouchers to help out at home. Crucially, we have ensured all our Victorian staff members are working exclusively for us to reduce the risk of cross-transmission of the virus from other facilities,” explained King.
Having staff members living at the villages has the added benefit of providing a surge workforce on-site in the event of a confirmed case of COVID-19. The key to retaining sufficient staffing levels if there is an outbreak is to carefully manage how and where people work.
Ryman has care centre staff working in tightly-controlled cohorts. Rosters are managed so no staff members are working across different parts of the care centre, shift handovers are done virtually via video call, and all staff are wearing full PPE, including face shields.
“This means that if we do have a confirmed case at a village, we can quickly and clearly trace their contracts and ensure only a small number of staff need to stand down,” said King.
Many of these infection control measures are already in place at the New Zealand villages and as the COVID-19 risk continues to rise, others are being implemented.
“We’ve learnt a huge amount during the COVID-19 outbreak in Victoria and those lessons have us well placed to ensure our New Zealand villages remain safe havens for our residents and staff,” said King.