Australia’s aged care nurses still in the dark about promised ‘pop-up’ vaccination hubs
The federal government is expected to miss a self-imposed target on delivering “pop-up” hubs to vaccinate critical aged care staff and has given no details on the proposal to workers, despite multiple requests for information and meetings from the nursing union.
The vaccine rollout has been slow, chaotic and confusing for aged care workers, many of whom have reported receiving no jab or being left in limbo with a first dose only.
In an attempt to improve the vaccination rate of aged care workers, the government has promised to set up vaccination pop-up hubs specifically to vaccinate staff.
In its latest advice to aged care workers, the health department says the “details on the first of the pop-up locations will be made available in early April 2021”.
But the Guardian can reveal that the health department is still locked in negotiations with its contractor about the proposal and is yet to conduct consultation with the aged care sector.
Aged care workers have still not received even basic information about the planned pop-up hubs, despite the efforts of the Australian Nursing & Midwifery Federation.
“We’ve asked, and I’ve asked for a meeting to follow this through, about where they’ll be, how they’ll operate, what will the worker need to present to the clinic,” ANMF federal secretary, Annie Butler, told the Guardian. “But we haven’t got any information back.”
“I’m concerned, as we have been the whole time, that they have an idea, there’s a promise made, but they haven’t thought through the actual practicalities of making it happen.”
The department said it was still “discussing arrangements with the proposed contractor” for the delivery of the pop-up clinics for aged care workers.
“More information will be provided upon finalisation of these discussions and consultation with the aged care sector,” the department said in a statement.
Butler said that, given the department’s statement, she expected it would miss its own target on the delivery of the pop-up clinic locations by early April.
The lack of detail on the pop-up hubs is just one element driving confusion among aged care staff.
The government has so far not released specific figures on the vaccination of aged care staff, but is well behind more broadly on its aged care rollout.
Some aged care staff are receiving Pfizer jabs that are left over when the federal government’s private contractors turn up to aged care facilities to vaccinate residents.
Other staff are being told to go to general practitioners, many of whom are already overwhelmed by significant demand and dose undersupply.
Reports have also emerged of aged care workers being denied their second dose because their first was not properly recorded on the Australian Immunisation Register.
Aged care worker Donna, who asked that only her first name be used, received no warning that staff would be vaccinated with leftover Pfizer doses when private contractor in-reach teams first visited her South Australian facility to give the jab to residents.
“I missed out on mine there,” she told the Guardian. “I went back to work and asked ‘so what happens for those who weren’t here?’ and they said ‘well, you’ll get it if you happen to be here on the day the residents get theirs and there’s leftovers’.”
The in-reach team came back to the facility, but Donna was again not present. Some staff got their second jab, others were given only their first, before being told to ring the state’s health department or local hospitals to get their second.
“They weren’t given any paperwork about having their shots done, which I think was getting placed on the Medicare app on your MyGov site, but not many people provided their Medicare card either,” she said.
Donna has still not been told when she might get her first dose.
The department said it had advised all providers of the alternative ways for workers to access the vaccines.
“All residential aged care facilities have been advised of the access points available for vaccinating aged care workers to complement the inreach program,” it said in a statement.
Butler said the aged care worker rollout has suffered from “multiple layers of confusion”. She described the current situation as “chaotic”.
Aged care workers were initially supposed to be vaccinated in their workplaces as part of phase 1a, the highest priority stage. They are now being told to go to general practitioner clinics or the yet-to-materialise pop-up hubs.
“We’ve heard a variety of reasons as to why that’s changed,” Butler said. “It’s shifted from supply, to not enough staff, to worrying about side-effects. It’s very confused and we are very concerned.”
“We understand it’s a big, complex process. But there’s just not transparency, and there could be better transparency if they just tell us what’s going on, we can help them.”
Patricia Sparrow, head of the peak group Aged and Community Services Australia, told the ABC on Wednesday that she was disappointed with the aged care rollout and urged the government to speed it up.
“What we really need now is a really clear plan, both to finish ensuring that our residents are vaccinated but also to be really clear about vaccination of these key critical staff,” Sparrow said.
“I’m disappointed for aged care and I think the community is disappointed more broadly.”
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