With our unprecedented introduction to 2020, it is not surprising that actions to support older people through the bushfires and COVID-19 feature in this year’s LASA Excellence in Age Services Awards for NSW/ACT.

While many aged care homes were devastatingly in the firefront, and several evacuated in New South Wales at the peak of the fires, there were no casualties.

Finalist in the Organisation Award for NSW/ACT, RSL LifeCare, convened a Crisis Management Team (CMT) in December 2019 as the bushfire crisis loomed. Their forward planning meant facilities could be evacuated ahead of catastrophic fire days – as evacuations needed nine to 12 hours – supported by ambulances, SES, charter and RSL buses.

With sites at Eden and Tura Beach in the direct line of fire, the CMT worked around the clock to support local teams, while at Merimbula, managers slept on-site between shifts to be ready for an evacuation. In total, RSL LifeCare was able to protect 1,500 lives across 10 sites.

There was also a push among home care providers to step up their services to those most in need. One of these providers was KinCare, also a Finalist in the Organisation Award for NSW/ACT.

Wanting to do more to support their clients during the bushfires, KinCare began making welfare calls to those in affected areas, to check on wellbeing and pass on important information. In one day alone, they reached out to 1,203 customers and were able to speak with 744 of them, giving the provider insight into the level of support needed so they could adapt their services.

It meant they could provide specific help to people like John, who was living alone in an area severely affected by the bushfires with no water, no food and no way out.

The onset of COVID-19 has seen the program become firmly established in the form of regular welfare checks for customers who may not have family support or social interaction at home – making a real difference in the lives of some of our most vulnerable Australians.

In the running for the NSW/ACT Next Gen Young Leader Award – a new category this year – is physiotherapist Simon Kerrigan, who started Guide Healthcare in 2018. At the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, Simon recognised the potential secondary detrimental effects of reduced activity and social isolation on people in residential aged care facilities.

He developed the Get Up Guide, a daily exercise program that targets key areas such as lower limb strength, balance and mobility, with handout sheets and videos to help people learn the right techniques, and help carers support residents. Get Up Guide was provided free to all aged care providers, with the daily exercise videos downloaded more than 1,600 times.

Finalist for the NSW/ACT Individual Award Penny Pajic, Activities Team Leader at Genista Aged Care in Greystanes, demonstrated outstanding effort in providing communication, facilitating technology like video calls, and stimulating activities during COVID-19 restrictions.

Her efforts ensured Australia Day, ANZAC Day, Mothers’ Day and Easter celebrations could still be held under COVID-19 safety practices, while her ‘Cuddle Corner’ allowed residents to physically hold their loved ones through the use of a transparent screen and micro-guard sleeves.

The LASA Excellence in Age Services Awards aim to promote and recognise excellence across the diverse and dynamic fields of endeavour in the age services industry. The five categories are: Organisation Award, Team Award, Individual Award, Rising Star Award and the new Next Gen Young Leader Award.

The awards celebrate the passion and achievements of organisations, teams and individuals in the service of older Australians, and seek to increase public confidence and community involvement in aged care and services.

“We are incredibly proud of all our finalists across Australia. They demonstrate the calibre of age services employees who devote themselves to the heartfelt care of our parents, grandparents and great grandparents, each and every day,” said LASA CEO Sean Rooney. “Every one of them deserves our gratitude.”

The 56 finalists across the five categories from SA/NT, NSW/ACT, QLD and WA, with the VIC/TAS Award winners previously announced.

NSW/ACT Award winners will be announced on Aged Care Employee Day on 7 August, with a live broadcast at 10am (AEST).

Aged Care Employee Day is a national campaign to acknowledge the role of aged care workers in the lives of our older people, by saying #ThanksforCaring.

More information about the day and how to participate is available at agedcareday.com.au

Media contact: Nick Way 0419 835 449 nickw@lasa.asn.au