3 Mar 2020

Govt 'ignoring' aged care sector on Covid-19 plan for rest homes

From Checkpoint, 6:11 pm on 3 March 2020

The elderly are being dismissed and ignored by the Ministry of Health in the Covid-19 response, the NZ Aged Care Association and Retirement Villages Association say.

The groups also say they are not confident District Heath Boards are ready for a coronavirus outbreak in a rest home.

People over 80 have up to a 15 percent fatality rate from the disease, with those over 65 also much more vulnerable than the rest of the population.

NZACA represents all parts of the aged care sector providing residential services for people over 65.

Its chief executive Simon Wallace told Checkpoint despite requests to urgently meet with officials to develop a plan, they have had no answer.

"They are ignoring us. This issue was raised by me at a national level meeting between the aged residential care sector and DHBs.

"I wrote to the DHBs on the February 25 and I only heard yesterday from the DHBs that individual approaches from individual DHBs was how they would be dealing with this.

"And that's been very piecemeal, that's been very patchy."

The aged care sector needs a national-level plan, Wallace said.

"That's about the rest home sector working with the government on a plan… where we can access practical things like a stockpile of equipment. That's masks, surgical gowns, it's assistance with our staffing. We're not necessarily resourced to deal with a big outbreak."

Discussions around such a plan has not happened, he said.

"We've seen today a case in America with a rest home where people have died, and it has been linked to coronavirus.

"We are well prepared and well set up to deal with an influenza outbreak, or a norovirus outbreak. But this is not business as usual with coronavirus, this is new ground and we've seen the government close the border to some countries.

"I'm raising the alarm bells today because we want to be prepared and ready. I've not had the confidence that the District Health Boards are prepared.

"This is a global viral outbreak and that requires a national level response. We're prepared and ready to talk to those government agencies - it's a far more effective way of minimising and managing the situation rather than having to deal with a whole lot of 20 individual DHBs."

Wallace told Checkpoint family members of those in aged care are calling rest home managers and nursing staff, wanting to know what sort of plans are in place.

"Only today have I heard from the Minister. I've been asking for a meeting with the Associate Minister of Health Jenny Salesa, who's responsible for older people. Only today after we brought this matter into the public have I had a response.

"That shouldn't be the way. The aged residential care sector as a mainstream part of health, we provide a valuable service, we have 35,000 beds and we need to be regarded as equal partners with the District Health Boards. That's not the way we've been treated through this."