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'Exhausted' aged care staff say they are working up to 16 hours at a time to make up for a loss of staff. Source: Jeremy Piper/NewsWire.

Industry battles ‘dire’ shortages as COVID-19 cases skyrocket

As the Omicron variant rips through the nation’s aged care sector, peaks are asking for swift action from federal cabinet to relieve critical shortages and residents under lockdown.

The latest federal data has reported over 500 active COVID-19 outbreaks in facilities across Australia. 

There are an estimated 3205 cases related to aged care, with the majority being reported from staff members.

Aged & Community Services Australia (ACSA) President Paul Sadler says that some providers in the regions have reported losing up to 30 per cent of their workforce. 

“It’s probably the most dire situation that anyone can remember for a long, long time,” Sadler told Aged Care Insite. 

“We’ve had people telling me they’ve had somewhere between half and three quarters of their services with confirmed outbreaks.”

Due to the large numbers of staff being furloughed, providers are having to delegate their services to the most vulnerable, according to Sadler. 

“The consequence of that in a home care delivery context is just simply they can't get out to see people,” he said. 

“They are having to go through and try and prioritise who gets the people who are still available and who doesn't.”

According to the Health Services Union (HSU), nearly two in five staff said they had been forced to isolate due to COVID-19 exposure, with only 16 per cent having access to paid leave.

The survey also reported that some workers were working up to 16 hours at a time.

"The Morrison government comprehensively failed to plan before allowing Omicron to rip through the community, and residents in aged care facilities who built this country are paying the price," said HSU president Gerard Hayes.

"Aged care workers are exhausted and frustrated and residents are terrified. The federal government needs to take action today."

Facilities in NSW have reported the highest number of current outbreaks, with 641 residents and 762 staff testing positive as of January 7. 

Victoria has reported 395 resident cases and 446 staff cases.

There have been 12 aged care residents who have died from the virus since January 1. 

The Prime Minister recently announced that aged care workers would be included on the list of people who can return to work after a negative rapid antigen test result. 

This comes as providers and workers continue to report diminished access to rapid antigen tests, PCR tests and personal protective equipment (PPE).

“Our members in aged care are reporting a staffing crisis, lack of access to suitable PPE, substandard infection control practices, and with many residents and staff still awaiting their booster,” said NSWNMA general secretary Shaye Candish.

“Some aged care facilities are being forced to ration rapid antigen tests, only using them every 72 hours.”

There are currently over a million reported COVID-19 cases in Australia.

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