Dedication and desperation have defined the role of aged care providers and their devoted workers in doing the best they can to protect and save their residents from coronavirus in Victoria.

Dedication is the bottom line of care, but desperation has too often also been the reality, as COVID-19 infection and quarantine decimated local workforces while in too many cases  repeated requests for replacement staff went unmet.

I know of a home that was left with a single Registered Nurse and one Personal Care Worker to look after almost 70 residents on a shift – including more than half a dozen with the virus – as many appeals for replacement staff were not adequately filled. Many hospital transfer pleas were also left to languish.

Thankfully, there have been some recent resolutions to do better but the lessons learned by aged care providers and staff on the frontline are invaluable and must be taken into account at the highest level.

We must make protecting older Australians from coronavirus a national priority.  Moreover, we must commit to provide the staff on the frontline in aged care, working tirelessly to provide care and support for our treasured elders, with all the necessary supports to realise this objective.

This includes all the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), training, funding and pandemic leave required to protect older Australians.

Whether an aged care service is community operated or faith-based, privately owned or government-run, all must comply with the national Aged Care Quality Standards.

And while many are quick to blame others, this is not the time for accusations against governments, health authorities or aged care services.  It is – as the Prime Minister has recently stated – the time for us to ‘move heaven and earth’ in our fight against COVID19.

New Zealand’s outbreak, after more than three months of no community cases, is a deadly warning that we are in war like no other.

Our COVID-19 battle is still raging and we may be only at the beginning of the fight.

With well over 200 COVID-19 deaths linked to aged care services across Australia to date, our foremost commitment must be to save those receiving care.

To help achieve this, Leading Age Services Australia (LASA) – a peak body for not-for-profit, privately owned and government operated aged care services – has compiled lessons learned from the fight against COVID19 from across each state and territory, shared them with all governments, and regularly updates and distributes these insights to aged care providers.

As our understanding of COVID19 continues to evolve, we are steadfast in our commitment to work hand-in-hand with governments and health authorities to ensure emerging policies and protections in aged care reflect the real operational experiences aged care providers have garnered during their confrontation with coronavirus over the past few months.

Like Australia’s heroic General Sir John Monash in World War I and General Sir Thomas Blamey in World II, the commanders and troops at the front of this fight must be given the opportunity for direct input into the next battle plan.

That is why we are calling for additional enhancements to our national approach in aged care.

This starts with the establishment of a national Aged Care Advisory Group, reporting directly to the National Cabinet.

Consistent with the call made by Aged Care Royal Commissioner Tony Pagone last week, this group would consult with relevant gerontology and communicable diseases specialists, alongside aged care practitioners and experts, to advise our leaders on the best ways to keep older Australians safe from COVID-19.

The Group would work with experts and the sector to design essential policies and programs, continuously review lessons learned from Australia and overseas, and translate this into appropriate guidance, including a comprehensive escalated response framework to coordinate actions and communications at local and state levels.

Translating national level guidance and policies into tangible actions and outcomes on the ground will the responsibility of Aged Care COVID-19 Planning and Response Coordination Centres in every state and territory.

These centres will be crucial in the fight as they plan for outbreaks, conduct ‘war games’ to stress test these plans, and be the single point of coordination in response to actual outbreaks.

Finally, and most importantly, we need to ensure that every support necessary is provided to aged care workers to implement agreed measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 amongst older people. This includes adequate supplies of PPE, paid pandemic leave, funding for additional staff and all other expenses incurred.

Aged care workers and their organisations are throwing everything they have at protecting the people they care for from COVID-19.

There must be a clear and unambiguous commitment to resource aged care workers and services with all reasonable and necessary measures to protect our most at-risk Australians.

Protecting our most vulnerable and valuable must be our nation’s priority.