Recently, HealthX Executive Support Officer Meg Flanagan had the chance to sit down with Leading Age Services Australia (LASA) and talk about supporting a mobile workforce in a COVID-19 Environment for their magazines’ Winter issue.

Social distancing and the introduction of travel restrictions could have been a major challenge for an organisation reliant on a mobile workforce deploying across the country, but HealthX was well prepared.

HealthX provides short and long term nursing workforce solutions to residential aged care facilities across regional and remote Australia.

“As outbreaks of COVID-19 began to escalate outside China, we started to plan our response,” said Carollyne Palling, HealthX CEO.

“Our focus was on the welfare of our staff and supporting our facility clients. We knew if we did that then the health of the business would take care of itself.”

HealthX nurses travel across the country for placements from 4 weeks up to 2 years and can relocate from overseas to take up longer placements. As international and then domestic travel restrictions came into play, constant monitoring of requirements was required.

“At one point our Travel team were providing updates on an hourly basis as new restrictions were implemented,” said Carollyne.

“Every state had different requirements and at times the directions were not clear, or the detail was not well described. This created confusion for our staff and our facility clients about what was allowed. Some staff and clients were understandably nervous about making plans in such an uncertain environment.”

Like many organisations, HealthX activated their Business Continuity Plan to help coordinate their response. Key components of the Plan included establishing a Coordination Team who met regularly throughout each day and set clear actions at each meeting. The Team also workshopped multiple scenarios to ensure that the organisation was prepared for emerging situations.

“We ran what-if scenarios that considered worst case situations impacting on travel, outbreaks at facilities, or disruption to our internal business operations,” said Carollyne.

“Our planning enabled us to anticipate a number of actions that were taken by governments and facilities. This included introducing a ‘COVID-19 exposure declaration’ by our short-term staff before this requirement was adopted by many facilities and organisations.”

Another focus of the Business Continuity Plan was managing communication with staff and facilities. As HealthX staff work across jurisdictions the primary source of information was that coming from the Australian Government and the Department of Health, but additional information relevant to the jurisdiction was also needed.

“We identified early on the risk associated with outdated information, particularly when things were changing quickly,” said Naomi Dunne, Division Manager – Aged Care, “Our communication to staff focused on the high-level information but provided links to local information such as state and territory health departments to ensure our staff knew where to get current information.

“We knew that our facility clients were under immense pressure, so we intentionally limited our communication with them. Our message was that we are here, we can assist you and we are available when you need us.”

While COVID-19 related restrictions on visitors impacted the ability to have important conversations about care decisions and end-of-life planning, the virus also highlighted the importance of advance care planning.

“For our staff who move around, and particularly in regional and remote locations, access to online training and resources is critical,” said Naomi.

As part of HealthX’s ongoing professional development support, the aged care staff have been introduced to the End of Life Directions for Aged Care (ELDAC) program which provides information and links to a range of topics including advance care planning, recognising end-of -life, managing deterioration and bereavement.

“The ELDAC resources have been a great tool for helping our staff take an active and supportive role with residents and their families,” said Naomi. “With our staff working across multiple jurisdictions, the ELDAC program provides them with easy access to information that is appropriate for that location. This has been especially important during the COVID-19 situation.”

While restrictions on activities and movement have begun to be lifted, it is clear that ongoing vigilance will be required particularly in environments with at-risk populations.

“While the last few months have been challenging, it is challenges like this that test our processes and systems and enable us to improve and provide better services and support to the age services industry,” said Carollyne.

To see the full issue from LASA, click here.

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