27 Mar 2020

Lack of caregivers for elderly and disabled causes turmoil

4:22 pm on 27 March 2020

Elderly and disabled people are being left without support because the lockdown has thrown the caregiver system into turmoil.

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Geneva Healthcare chief executive Veronica Manion says the company has been preparing for possible lockdown for several weeks. Photo: 123RF

They include people with dementia and diabetes who need help dressing and washing.

In at least one case, an elderly woman has had no assistance for two or three days.

A Northland caregiver, who has been stood down because she's in her 70s and considered "at risk", said one of her clients - a 97-year-old woman - called her on Wednesday to say no replacement had turned up.

"She hadn't had a carer for two or three days. And she lives on her own, she's got nobody. She needs supervision, she needs someone there while she's having a shower.

"She's alright, she said, 'I'll just have a bodywash'."

Whangarei man Warren Bennie's was told by his mother's carer on Sunday that she had been stood down, and a assumed a relief carer would be arranged.

But by late Monday morning, his 99-year-old mother, who has dementia, was still waiting in her pyjamas and becoming increasingly agitated.

He phoned the home-care provider's call centre and waited 45 minutes to get through.

"The stuff were obviously flustered, they couldn't put calls through to other people because the system was overloaded.

"And I started to realise - and this was never contradicted by any of the staff I put it to - that they'd made no preparations for standing the staff down.

"They had done it quickly and they had no plan B in place."

A replacement carer finally showed up at about 2.15pm.

That evening, Bennie called the 0800 number again because no-one had turned up to put his mother to bed, only to learn her care had been cancelled for that night.

Waitara resident Niall Corbett, 59, is a type-one diabetic, has been hospitalised 10 times in the last 12 months and struggles to button his shirt.

His caregiver comes twice a day to do his "personal cares" but he has been told by Access Community Health that the 30 minutes housework he gets a week is being cut during the four-week lockdown.

It is not considered an "essential service".

"I feel sorry for the carer when she does work that she's got four weeks of rubbish to catch up on, and she works her butt off.

"She's excellent but it's not fair on her. That's the way it is, I'll just have to suck it up for four weeks."

Access chief executive Alison Van Wyk said nine percent of the company's 3500 caregivers were over 70, but many had chosen to keep working during the lockdown.

"Because they care, our caregivers care for their communities, our nursing teams care for our communities.

"And where we are actually able to position that care with the numbers that we have, we do that."

Cuts were being driven by the district health boards, Health Ministry and ACC, which fund Access, she said.

"But it's always a clinical decision."

Geneva Healthcare chief executive Veronica Manion said the company had been preparing for possible lockdown for several weeks, making it possible for their office staff to work from home, but admitted Monday's announcement came earlier than expected.

Of the company's 3000 home-support workers, about 146 were over 70 and had been stood down along with others with pre-existing health conditions that make them more vulnerable to the virus.

She apologised to those who had suffered disruptions in their care.

"We realise that at this difficult time, there will be amendments to some schedules and potential delays and some adjustments to cares required.

"Although this is not ideal we are working with our people and have communicated to our clients that this may occur in some instances."

However, Manion said she was confident Geneva had enough caregivers to keep services going.

"We've got a triaging system that we work to every day so that the most vulnerable people get care no matter what.

"If we had capacity issues, our plan would be to do phone check-ins with the least vulnerable people every day to make sure that they're OK, maybe not do home-help cleaning for a few weeks."

Due to unprecedented demand on the call centre and reduce frustration, Geneva was encouraging "stakeholders" to use email text and social media to get in touch.

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