The challenges the community has faced through the COVID-19 Pandemic have been vast and disruptive to everyday life. With so much focus on negative stories in the news, especially around aged care facilities throughout Australia, it is pleasing to report on how Horton House (HH) and Warmington Lodge (WL) have excelled in providing care to their residents.
The focus of HH and WL during the ‘Pandemic’ has been preventing transmission to residents and staff. This has been achieved due to the precautions that have been put in place. CEO, Lyn Morgan, attributed this to “constant communication with staff, residents, community care clients and their representatives.”
HH and WL have had two voluntary lockdowns since March and continue to maintain strict screening processes, hand hygiene and social distancing per government regulations. There is a single point of entry, and all visitors must show evidence of having had the 2020 flu vaccine. Each person has their temperature checked and are asked specific questions to assess COVID-19 risk to residents and staff. During this time, HH and WL residents have been unable to assemble. The increased focus on hand hygiene in society generally; the mandatory Fluvax requirement; and visitor restrictions has resulted in a marked reduction of flu and other infections in residents and staff.
“We follow the required strict regulations to prevent COVID-19 transmission however use a proportionate approach whereby if a resident is requiring increased support from their family members then steps are taken to make it safe for family to spend more time than is regulated with their relative,” said Ms Morgan.
During the lockdowns, Recreation Officer hours were increased to ensure the residents were adequately supported. The main goal was to maintain resident contact with their families. This was done with the use of technology and external visits whereby residents could see family via a window or a balcony.
“Prior to COVID-19, the Friends of Horton House and Warmington Lodge were approached to purchase tablet devices for staff use with the residents for activities, menu reviews, skype etc. With COVID these devices have been put to very good use keeping residents in contact with families through Zoom and Skype. Staff assist residents and great joy has been experienced by all,” Ms Morgan added.
The facility WIFI capabilities had also been increased. Some residents are now seeing their families more through this technology than before COVID-19.
Yass Valley Aged Care (YVAC) conducted surveys of residents and their families to gauge their response to the handling of COVID-19 restrictions. Responses were positive as everyone understood the risk and voiced appreciation for the precautions and the work involved in keeping the residents safe. The management team was also commended by an Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission team on their communication and updates during this time.
The YVAC Care Managers and Outbreak Management Team of Simone Hughes and Alison Jones, have ensured the facility’s COVID-19 information is always up to date. They are responsible for sourcing and managing the PPE required in case of an outbreak. They have trained all staff in the use of PPE. Management advised the ongoing support from the local health district is very much appreciated.
Managers, Alison Cooke and Jo Limbrick have supported the Home Care Services using similar client screening processes. Before COVID-19, Meals on Wheels were delivered by volunteers; however, due to the risk and restrictions, Jo and Home Care staff have been delivering the meals.
Amidst the procedural changes and increased workload of COVID, YVAC also underwent a full accreditation process.
“As CEO I am extremely proud and appreciative of everyone’s tireless efforts to protect and support the residents, clients, and staff of Yass Valley Aged Care during 2020. For a small town we have a stable staff who are very experienced and have been with the organisation for a long time because it’s a good organisation to be associated with,” Ms Morgan stated.
The Board and management team are grateful the Commonwealth Government has provided some additional funding during COVID. Still, they consider day-to-day funding needs increasing to recognise the true price of care provided to the frail aged and the true value of the aged care sector to society. The Commonwealth’s expectations of what Providers such as YVAC provide continues to increase; however, the organisation states that funding is not keeping up, and this creates sustainability concerns.
“There is a huge amount of paperwork that Aged Care needs to do to justify an increase in funding. They spend so much time on paperwork and documenting everything they do,” said Melina Waters, YVAC Board Member.
When a resident enters a facility, that facility receives funding from the government for some aspects of their care. People who opt for home care are given a choice of several different packages which the government dictates. These packages contain services such as gardening, cleaning, nursing, showering assistance, access to ancillary medical services etc. The client oversees the package, and the Provider (YVAC) charges the package to cover the service costs. If the client passes away, the Provider returns any unused funds to the government.
“If someone is getting a package at home, they will get a government subsidy and are charged a fee to receive the service. Explaining that to the residents is not easy,” said Melina.
People who receive packages from the government are required to pay an income-tested fee every single day. Even if you only receive help on two or three days a week, you are still required to pay the fee every day. The client has to determine the most appropriate option for them – whether directly paying for services or accepting a package.
Board members of Yass Valley Aged Care have commended staff for doing an incredible job maintaining the provision of high-quality care and advice to their residents during the challenges that COVID-19 has brought to the aged care sector. The Board has also congratulated the HH and WL team for showing genuine care for the residents and excellence in staying the distance throughout the current Pandemic.
COVID not the first or last challenge for the aged care sector in Yass
Horton House is no stranger to adversity, suffering from arson in 2007 with 45% of the building being damaged. The residents at the time were relocated between 6 different sites while the repairs were being made. Concurrently, WL was being relocated behind HH and construction for both were finished three weeks apart at the end of 2007.
In 1982 a Lady named Elsie Horton left $380,000 in the hopes of Yass building a nursing home for the region. It took ten years to raise the rest of the money required to create Horton House which the people of Yass were mostly responsible. In 1991 Yass Age Care Foundation Inc (YACF) was established, which played a significant role in raising these funds.
Tony Parker of T L Parker and Co is currently the treasurer of the Yass Age Care Foundation and a founding trustee, along with the late Solicitor Jeff Snell and late Dr David Graham Sr. The Foundation in the past ten to twelve years has given 1.985 million dollars to age care in Yass.
A Keith Martin appointed fundraiser for public appeal raised over $1 million for building HH, and in 1992 the facility was completed. Along with the money Elsie Horton left, the money raised through fundraising and government subsidies, HH had a total cost of $3.25 million.
HH started operations with Governor-General Bill Hayden opening the site. Originally it included 31 rooms and in 2006 consolidated with Warmington Lodge which moved from its location in Rossi Street. As of November 2019, the facilities finished an extension costing around $3 million. The number of rooms has now doubled with 65 in total.
In 2005 the Yass Age Care Trust was established with the purpose of fundraising for the WL relocation project and ongoing funding for age care in Yass. It was established as a deductible gift entity under the guidance of the ATO. The Trust received $3.3 million from the Ron Clark family in 2010 after his sad passing in 2008. The YACF is the trustee in control over the Yass Age Care Trust.
The Yass Age Care Trust has a current capital base of around $6.936 million, which is based around a strong share portfolio of listed securities. The Trust generates approximately $300,000 a year in revenue, of that, around $250,000 is distributed to YVAC while the balance is reinvested to account for future growth and financial viability.
“Legislation requires an annual distribution of 4% of the capital base which the Trust will continue to do for the foreseeable future,” said Mr Parker.
Current age care funding from the government requires residents to be assessed when they enter a facility. If the resident’s health deteriorates during this time, their funding cannot increase until after 12 months. However, the opposite is not true; if the resident improves their condition after entering the facility, the funding will go down at any stage.
Photo at top of article L-R – Alison Cooke, Alison Jones, Trina Watchorn, Jim Longhurst, Lyn Morgan, Jo Limbrick, Lisa Tindall, Amey Gruber