Increasingly concerned home support workers are worried that without adequate personal protective equipment and mandatory protocols for risk assessments, they may end up spreading COVID-19 around the homes and communities they work in.
The news that 21 hospital workers are now self-isolating as a result of exposure to NZ’s first person to have died from COVID-19 has raised additional concerns for the support workforce who say processes and protocols in their sector are not robust enough to cope with the complexities and challenges of self-isolation requirements.
Jan, a support worker from the South Island who doesn’t want her last name published, is worried about safety.
“I sometimes visit 20 or more homes in a day, I visit our over 65s and people with disabilities or other long-term conditions, and I am concerned for the safety and wellbeing of my clients, and myself,” Jan says.
“We cannot stay six feet away from those we support when we provide personal cares such as showering, we’re usually in close contact. I think there’s a misunderstanding about what we do – we want to continue to support our clients, but we don’t want to be responsible for community spread here in NZ.”
“I know support workers around the country talking about quitting the sector for good if these concerns remain, and I know many are talking about refusing to work in situations which they consider to be unsafe.”
E tū Director Kirsty McCully says that Jan’s concerns are being echoed across the board.
workers worldwide share these concerns and, alongside other frontline health
workforces, are calling for PPE to be made available to them,” she says.
“We’ve heard that there isn’t a supply issue here in New Zealand, but support workers currently struggle to access it, and the current advice to support workers is that they do not need it unless they are dealing with someone with a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis.
“Providers with PPE including masks must urgently pass them on to the support workers they employ. If they don’t have any, DHBs must act to distribute the PPE support workers need at this time.
“Unless something is done fast, this could become a public health disaster – clients are beginning to cancel their care, and ultimately if they become unwell they will end up in hospital at a time when our health system must be prioritised for those requiring COVID-19 and other urgent treatment.”
E tū has met repeatedly with Ministry of Health and DHB representatives to raise the concerns of support workers and is calling for urgent action on the matter.
For more info or comment:
Kirsty McCully 027 204 6354