HACSU State Secretary Paul Healey and Assistant State Secretary Kate Marshall met today with Minister for Health, Jenny Mikakos. We received an update regarding accommodation to be provided to health workers who test positive for COVID-19. Referrals to this accommodation program will be made by the health service (employer). The program is available for clinical and non-clinical workers across both private and public sectors.
The Minister’s Office is working with private hospitals to utilise workers facilities to help support the public health system. A further $1.3 billion has been allocated to expand the amount of hospital beds in Victoria by 450 beds to 4000 beds total in Victoria. Hospitals will increase the number of Intensive Care (ICU) beds at The Alfred, Monash, Austin, Bendigo, Barwon, Peter Mac and more, totalling an increase of 600 ICU beds across the State. Existing ICU facilities will also receive upgrades. A significant amount of PPE is expected to arrive in Victoria this week, with more arriving next week. A PPE taskforce has been established to review supply, demand and usage. This also includes the reuse of PPE, as some PPE is being stored and resterilised properly by universities.
We need to emphasise with members that if you are ordering PPE, please don’t over order or hoard PPE. It is needed widely across the service sector. Only order what you need for now, more will be made available and we need to share it so that all essential workers who require PPE have access to it.
The Minister’s Office also thanked union members, including HACSU members for supporting retired members to return to work in the industry. Over 10,000 workers have expressed an interest to return to work in the health industry, and students are being brought into services to provide further support. If you or someone you know has left the industry, and would be interested in returning at critical time, you can register your interest here: https://healthworkforceresponse.dhhs.vic.gov.au/
Very soon further resources will be made available by the Department about infection control specific to COVID-19, and proper use and fitting of PPE. Since testing criteria changed, including changes for testing of HACSU members, a large number of people are now being tested.
We have also had concerns raised regarding people experiencing mental illnesses not having access to payment by credit or debit card. We have heard from members that this has caused hardship, and that consumers have noted being unable to purchase medications from pharmacies as a result of the restrictions on cash payments. If this is something you have witnessed or you are a case manager who is aware of these issues with consumers you support, please contact us to let us know firstname.lastname@example.org
In discussions with the Health Minister, we also raised concerns regarding changes to working conditions and a push for 12 hours shifts in hospitals. We are currently unclear on whether this model is suitable or sustainable and are working through these issues with the Minister’s Office. Similarly, there have been concerns raised to us by members about people who are aged over 70 being stood down without pay. At this stage, we are managing these concerns as we become aware of them however have also raised this in case it becomes a systemic issue.
From midnight tonight, new restrictions come into place on disability group homes. This also extends to all AOD services. Only one visitor per resident per day, including service providers will be allowed. Please speak with your employer if these measures are not being followed. Read more here.
Whilst the Federal Government has spoken today about a flattening of the curve starting to appear, the State Government want to emphasise that we’re not out of the woods just yet. The situation should still be taken seriously and we will only continue to see a decline if the rules are followed by all Australians. We appreciate HACSU members role in both the work that you do, as well as following social distancing measures when you’re in your community. The Health Minister has also committed to speaking to each union about what the recovery phase will look like, when we’re at that stage.
Flu vaccines begin this week for workers in many healthcare settings. Speak with your employer to find out when they will offer the flu vaccine and if you have concerns regarding your personal health circumstances, speak with your regular GP.
We have reported concerns raised by HACSU members about lack of PPE, closure of services, members being stood down without pay, long shifts, acuity of clients and accommodation for health workers not extending to disability workers. The Health Minister acknowledged the worries of members and confirmed that accommodation does not extend to disability, but only to those who are in hospitals and exposed directly to positive cases of COVID-19 at work. This scheme may be expanded in the future. The Minister will be working closely with DHHS and ensure that issues will be addressed more promptly than have been up to this point.
Are you a disability worker in a group home, who has accessed special online shopping for residents at your workplace? We want to hear about your experiences, so we can feed this back to the Health Minister’s Office. Email us and let us know whether this has been a positive measure and what needs to be improved email@example.com
Concerns have been raised with us from other unions about the information sharing procedures between police, paramedics and mental health services. There is currently a lack of shared knowledge of incidences of COVID-19, which poses a risk to workers across these sectors who are attending people’s homes. We’re working with relevant unions to discuss how systems can better compliment each other to decrease these risks.
We have also heard that there has been a significant increase in family and domestic violence. Services are available to all those experiencing violence at home and we want to emphasise to members that help is available if you are at risk of family violence. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger call 000. If it is safe to do so, for help and support contact Safe Steps 24/7 crisis service on 1800 015 188. For more information click here: https://www.dhhs.vic.gov.au/family-violence-crisis-response-and-support-during-coronavirus
Finally, we’re aware that during this difficult time, our most vulnerable Victorians are suffering. The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre has advised that they are running low on supplies for refugee and asylum seeker families who can’t access JobSeeker payments and may have lost employment. If you are able to support these families, please contact the ASRC on 1300 692 772 (https://www.asrc.org.au/donate/), where you can donate cash, or any of the following supplies of which they are running low: