When our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, thanked all the aged care workers across the country recently for their co-operation throughout the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was a sorely needed acknowledgement for all those in the aged care sector who’ve worked tirelessly to implement new strategies over the past two months, in order to keep the pandemic at bay.
CEO of the Queensland aged care facility New Direction Care at Bellmere, and Telstra Businesswoman of the Year, Natasha Chadwick, has been a key player in this sector. She’s implemented vital steps to protect and support her company’s staff over the last two months of COVID-19 lockdown and her company has even expanded during this time, while still maintaining the same high level of care for all residents.
As Chadwick says: “We are continuing to recruit and bring people on and develop them. We are one of the few industries employing staff.”
These strategies have been successful
The myriad of new strategies Chadwick has developed with her management team at New Direction Care have so far been very successful. As Chadwick says: “Touch wood, we have not had a resident sick for one to two months. Not even a cold.”
“It’s a good sign from a wellbeing perspective and shows we are doing okay even in this uncertain time and that our team is doing a great job around infection control by not bringing anything into the microtown that could impact on residents,” she adds.
What were the new strategies?
One of the key reasons Chadwick achieved high results at New Direction Care was the fact she initiated changes quickly and decisively. As she told us: “One of our team members was in China during the outbreak, so we were aware of the potential impact of the virus early on and moved quickly.”
“Our management team started preparing everything towards the end of January and early February even though we didn’t know whether it would come or not. It was a good call, I must say.
“We were able to stock up on personal protective equipment. The only thing we had a struggle with, at first, was hand sanitizer. We’ve never really had a concern that we wouldn’t be able to meet the demand,” she adds.
Regular communication was vital
Chadwick says at New Direction Care, from day one, they had a policy to communicate with their staff on a regular basis about all the changes: “There’s 144 staff members at New Direction Care,” she says. “Initially, we sent daily updates and now they are weekly updates. We have all-team meetings where everyone can talk freely. We also have an online platform so we can continue to be open with our team and they can ask questions.”
“Most of them realise the importance of their role and doing the right thing – particularly hand hygiene practice and social distancing – because they are the front line for the residents,” she adds.
Flexibility was offered to staff
Chadwick says some of their staff were fearful and asked to be rostered off because members of their family were at risk or compromised. She says they were able to offer flexibility in this situation and this way, no-one was placed in a situation where they were uncomfortable.
“We have been able to be flexible, but the majority of our staff are happy to be hands on,” she adds. “Additionally, we’ve enabled our staff to use their annual leave where we can. We’ve given them options. We also say thank you a lot with small tokens of appreciation and things like snacks – each team member also receives a meal during their shift,” she says.
“We have an external assistance programme too. As a company, we have our own qualified psychologist. All of this makes a difference,” she emphasises.
Staff were able to give their opinions in company survey
Another step New Direction Care took was to send out a survey to their staff so they could get as much information possible. Chadwick says they asked questions such as: ‘What would you like us to do if there is a case of someone living with us with COVID-19?’
Chadwick says “a huge number of the staff” were happy to be rostered in the event of this happening: “I was very happy – I can tell you. It shows they understand what they are dealing with,” she says.
“They understand our core values and the reasons they were hired shone through. What’s helped are our core values of individuality, community, relationships, empathy and respect. Our family members are overwhelmingly supportive,” she emphasises.
Government help was not forthcoming initially
Chadwick says as far as getting help from the government – “We’ve basically had nothing.”
“Quite frankly, we are in the front line. A lot of the assistance they have provided to the industry is too late. However, as an organisation we have been able to respond quickly and develop new processes, increase our team and change the way we do things all to protect residents and our team and make sure we don’t let this virus into our microtown. We haven’t really looked for the Government to help us,” says Chadwick.
The video above of the residents and staff at New Direction Care was filmed in April.