Aged care during a fire emergency – a South Coast perspective

Margaret Crothers and Amadis Lacheta [Seniors Rights Service South Coast advocates] spoke to home care providers, residential aged care staff and managers and care recipients on the south coast after the worst of the fires had passed and communication lines had reopened.

Heart felt recognition and thanks must go to the managers and coordinators of aged care services – the responsibility of ensuring that older, frail people under their care were safe and well, was immense. Managers also had to look after staff who were impacted. Yet aged care homes were evacuated safely, care recipients were checked on and care given where possible and needed.

The providers ensured clients were all contacted and visited where possible – some using head offices or offices in other regions to phone around because of the communication breakdowns that were experienced. But they managed it.

Those needing evacuation were evacuated, the pharmacies were great at dispensing essential medicines and regional nurses (RNs) went over and above to ensure that essential clinical care was carried out.

Care recipients who were isolated for days report that people they didn’t even know came to their aid with food and medical supplies. There was one report of essential medicines being fetched by boat because of road closures.

Some services sent in extra staff or advertised for extra staff to help out. I know of RNs on holidays helping with residential care evacuations.

Managers reported how well the aged care recipients coped with the trauma – stoic and patient. One manager suggested that all home care recipients should be checked to see if they have a battery operated radio in future – a valid point.

Providers are working together, sharing hours and available staff to ensure needs are met.

On a lighter note: One gentleman with slight dementia was taken to an evacuation centre. He registered and then promptly went home. He thought they had taken him in to vote!

Seniors Rights Service received regular updates from the Commonwealth Department of Health about residential aged care home evacuations. These updates were particularly valuable because we could not only see which ones were evacuated but also where they had gone. We had the information at our fingertips in case any concerned relative called.

Margaret and Amadis co-chair aged care interagency meetings in Eurobodalla and Bega Valley. The February meeting is dedicated to reviewing our respective responses to the bushfires to share learnings from this critical experience so that we can all be better prepared in the future.