Right now things are pretty crappy for a lot of people.

Hiker on top of a rocky mountain, looking towards the horizon across a lake, with dark sunset clouds covering the sky. Text says "Storms will always pass..."

All of us face restrictions on what we can do, who we can see, where we can go. Depending on where you are, things may also be very tight in terms of space and options for physical freedom.

We are experiencing a barrage of negative and on-going news media cycles that is hard to avoid… unless you are self isolating under a rock with no modern tech. Sometimes that sounds really inviting!

There are heightened fears and anxiety across teams, and more broadly, across communities in general.

You, or someone you love, may be at greater risk due to age or existing health issues. This can weigh on anyone's mind, especially observing what’s been happening overseas.

Seniors (clients and residents alike) are potentially more isolated and at risk, both from a potential decrease in support and supervision, as well as detrimental impacts on social and emotional health and wellbeing.

Over the last few weeks, we have been listening to and working with providers (home care and residential), getting feedback on what’s been happening in their service contexts, what the key issues have been and hearing about approaches and innovations that are helping them deal with the situation, so we thought it may be helpful to share some of these learnings…

Communication and information management

Oh boy, who has a few ‘grasshoppers’ in their team? You know, the mostly well-meaning staff member(s) who keep letting you know about something else they have read or seen.

Given the information overload and social media saturation out there, it’s becoming really important to get clarity about what is valid, credible and current. Things are changing almost daily so it’s really important to “calm the farm” as someone very colloquially put it.

One solution, as suggested by another provider, has been to hold regular focus meetings with staff, ensuring everyone is getting the same, relevant information and nipping misinformation in the bud.

Another approach could be some form of ‘all staff’ communication to get everyone on the same page and updated with the latest information and advice on what the Management team are doing and how this relates to staff.

Don’t forget consumers as well, particularly those living in the community. They are exposed to information from ‘Mabel’ who lives next door who got her latest bit of information from Facebook. Perhaps this is the time to send out a regular weekly newsletter to your clients, informing them of the latest relevant information, encouraging them to follow Government advice on self-isolation and letting them know you are there for them.

Whatever you choose – be consistent about when and how this occurs so people know what to expect and when.

Privacy and following correct protocol

A Home Care provider related an issue that happened this week which has resulted in the need to sternly reinforce the need for all staff to abide by the organisation Code of Conduct and Privacy requirements. The situation related to a family member of a client who had returned from out of town and was in home isolation at the same property as the client.

The support worker just happened to mention they had been to “so and so's” house and proffered information about the circumstances of this client and family member in isolation when they went to the next client, and you can probably imagine the fire that ignited for the service and management team…

Note: Now may also be a time to reiterate your organisation Code of Conduct and adherence to Privacy laws.

Stages of Crisis

I live in a small rural community and we had a pretty rough time a few years back when a bushfire ripped through our valley. Luckily no lives were lost, although there were quite a few close calls and lots of property and stock loss. The weight of dealing with that crisis taught me a lot.

Horse looking straight on at the camera

Crisis and Emergency situations generally have at least three phases:

  1. Preparation
  2. Active Phase – the front line
  3. Recovery

This situation we have presently here in Australia is a mix between ‘Preparation’ and ‘Active’, depending on where you are and what is happening around you. Things are still somewhat fluid at the moment and we are more fortunate than a lot of other countries as we have had more time to prepare and we can learn from what has and hasn’t worked in other countries.

When looking at your organisation's COVID-19 Response Plan, it may be helpful to think about the ‘stages’ as the bigger picture before you work through the nitty gritty – click here for examples.

And remember – your Plan will not remain static just as this situation isn't static either. There is likely to be more than just one peak in the COVID-19 pandemic here in Australia.

At some points you may need to be the Hare and prepared to act very quickly. At other times, you may need to be more like the wise old Tortoise, using more caution, measure and pace to avoid burnout for you and your team.

Adversity (can be) the mother of innovation

Something else that comes from adversity is often a range of innovations. There may also be a level of connectedness that probably would not have arisen without adversity too.

One such innovation example that comes to mind is a ‘Crafty Crafters’ group that (usually) runs from our local Fire Shed once a month. Now that we have to adhere to social and physical distancing measures and the group can’t physically meet, the alternative has been to establish a group chat using Facebook Messenger to share updates on projects, news, and generally just connect.

Sure the format is different, but the interaction and creativity is comforting and inspiring. This also keeps young and old(er) people connected. The age range for this group is from twenties to eighties. Now this won’t work for all contexts, but it is an example of bringing different age demographics together through a shared goal or concept and reimagining not so much the what, but the how.

We have also seen an increase in people who would not have previously used technology such as Facetime, Skype, Zoom, now embracing these as a means to keep connected.

Upskilling seniors in processes such as safely using internet banking and doing online grocery orders has also been occurring.

There are some great examples of reimagining activities and supporting social interaction to address current restrictions, like:

  • Bingo activities in Residential Care – now having two residents at each ‘long table’ with a set number of rows that comply with the distancing provisions for that area. With a bit of imagination and zest from staff, this was turned into a more direct and personal activity more akin to private dining than the group hall get-together.
  • Streaming in local entertainers who would have normally come in to the Centre (day care or residential) – using YouTube on TV screens.
  • Increasing ‘Pet Therapy’ using staff pets to limit the number of visitors where restrictions on visitors are in force.
  • Using Diversional Therapy Consultants to do online training with staff and upskill them to conduct 1:1 activities for clients and residents to support people who can no longer participate in group activities, and/or are limited to who they can get support from due to their elevated risk if exposed to infection.
  • Setting up pen-pals between clients/residents and school kids they may have previously had as visitors, but can no longer have that level of direct contact.
  • Sending out regular newsletters to clients remaining at home in isolation and including crossword puzzles, find-a-word puzzles, question of the day, etc – designed for other family members to learn more about their older relative.

One quote that I can safely share with a broader audience that came via the ‘Crafty Crafters’ is this…
“What's the best thing you have learned about storms?”
“That they end.”

Painted storm clouds with rainbow, with a man on a horse galloping.
Image Copyright Charlie Mackesy

On that note, I wish you all calmer waters and that once the storm does end – and it will – that you, your team and community will have more silver linings than dark clouds.

Stay safe and take care.

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