Home care clients are cancelling their appointments amid fears about contracting COVID-19.

With recent attention focusing on restrictions on visits to residential aged care, concerns about home care clients cancelling services are now beginning to emerge.

HelloCare conducted a survey last week asking home care workers if they had had their hours reduced. A total of 75 home care workers responded, with over one third – 36 per cent – saying their hours had been reduced.

The survey was conducted between 25 and 30 March and is now closed, but HelloCare readers continue to write to us letting us know their hours continue to be reduced. Last week’s survey could well show a higher result if taken today.

Home care staff say hours are being cut

One aged care worker we spoke to, Jennifer, has worked in aged care for nearly 30 years. She said her hours have been cut as clients cancel appointments.

She said she has trouble accessing masks, but that some clients feel more anxious when they use masks. “They might think we are sick,” she said. 

She is vigilant about hand hygiene and tries not to take clients out, in line with the government’s tighter recommendations for over 70s.

Often it is the families cancelling services on behalf of their loved ones, she said.

Jennifer said she is “worried” about losing work, but said “it can’t be helped”.

She said she feels home care workers should be entitled to additional financial support from the government due to the risk they take providing essential services to clients in the community.

Sarah* wrote to say she has lost ‘heaps’ of hours as clients cancel their home care appointments.

The government’s two $750 payments will go some way to helping staff cope with fewer hours of work, but can only go part way to eliminating concerns about future work and income.

Communication is key

In today’s OPAN webinar, ‘COVID-19 and what it means for people in Aged Care Session 2’, Leading Age Services Australia CEO, Sean Rooney, said people are asking if they should cancel their home care packages. 

But he said it’s “vitally important” to have continuity of services at this time. “People rely on these services,” he said.

Meredith Coote, general manager, government, services and policy with Mable, said it was vital that communication with clients is consistent, simple and easy to access so that staff and clients are well informed about what they have to do and they have an accurate understanding of the risks.

Ms Coote said it’s also important that staff have access to the PPE they need and clients too if they desire it. She said circumstances can change quickly when family is caring for a loved one with high care needs. 

The Department of Health’s COVID-19 training course was recommended as a good resource to help consumers and staff understand the disease and what is required.  

Craig Gear, CEO of OPAN, said if you wish to change your services you should speak to your provider.

Clients refusing home care services

When we spoke yesterday, Age and Community Services Australia CEO, Pat Sparrow, said she has also started to hear about clients refusing to take home care services. 

She said care recipients are nervous about contracting COVID-19 from care staff who are going from home to home as the disease is contagious before the carrier experiences symptoms. 

Clients’ fears are also being compounded by the government’s (perfectly correct) warnings about the vulnerability of older people to COVID-10.

Ms Sparrow said recipients of home care services need better education about how COVID-19 can be contracted and how infection control works to dispel some of the fears and reassure clients that services can be delivered if the proper precautions are being observed and the appropriate PPE available.

Missed services and monitoring

Ms Sparrow said it is a concern that home care recipients might not be getting the services they need if they cancel services. Providers are having to ask themselves how they will manage their clients if they no longer wish to receive services, or wish to have reduced levels of service. 

Ms Sparrow said there are concerns about monitoring clients if they are not able to visit them. “What sort of monitoring do we need to do to make sure they’re okay?” Ms Sparrow asked rhetorically.

Innovation is required to meet changed demand

Home care providers are looking “innovatively” at how they can deliver services to customers, Ms Sparrow said.

The government has helped, by allowing CHSP to be used flexibly. For example, if there is more need for food services than domestic assistance, then the funding can be used for the most needed purpose. If group activities are no longer taking place, the funding can be used for other forms of support.

Residents who receive home care services do so because the care is needed. It is their right to cancel services if they are concerned about COVID-19, but it’s important they have all the information before making that decision. 

It’s also important that staff are able to fulfil all their infection control requirements in order to reassure clients and, of course, keep them safe. 

*Name has been changed.

 

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