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Social isolation prompts Omnicare to adapt quickly

Redeployment, technology and new procedures have played a key role in supporting vulnerable people in the Mid-North Coast region.

Hastings-based Omnicare Alliance has met head-on the challenge of delivering services under pandemic restrictions.

The not-for-profit aged and disability support service provider has faced disruption to its overall operational capacity, while also managing significantly increased demand in one area.

General Manager of Operations, Penny Poulton, said the organisation’s senior management was responding well to changing circumstances.

“Omnicare Meals Service [affiliated to Meals on Wheels NSW] has experienced a net increase of about 8 per cent in clients since the end of February,” she said.

“We’ve had to implement major changes to the way we operate that service. For example, our seven branches have had to limit access to their premises.

“Many volunteers – particularly those over 70 years old – have been self-isolating, so we’ve brought in other Omnicare staff to assist with food packing and non-contact deliveries.

“We’re still conducting wellbeing checks on clients, so we check firstly that the meals are being picked up before the person delivering them leaves. Secondly, our staff are calling clients to touch base and to offer assistance where we can.”

Over the past four weeks, staff have called every Omnicare client (or carer) to check how they are coping. Many of these have prompted follow-up calls to provide information, advice or support beyond regular services.

“This situation is reminding everyone in society of the importance of connection and community,” Ms Poulton said.

“Omnicare is always aware of, and focused on, social connection – not just for clients, but also those that care for them at home.

“We’ve made around 1,000 calls in four weeks. Often, just saying hello and asking how people are, goes a long way to making them feel part of their community. Mostly, it’s a 10-minute chat. For some though, there might be a subsequent call to help them address an issue or sort out a problem.

“We’ll keep making regular calls as the pandemic continues.”

With Omnicare’s five Social Support day centres closed and group outings suspended – both due to physical distancing – there are limited opportunities for clients to engage with others face to face. However, that’s where technology is playing a vital role.

Last week, an NDIS client enjoyed Omnicare’s first ‘virtual support session’. Disability support worker Trent Corby used Skype to connect and engage with Jayden Davies.

Activity packs for people living with dementia have been complemented by an online chat group for their carers, with Omnicare staff available for advice and strategies to manage the challenges of social isolation.

The federal government has deemed personal care of the elderly an ‘essential service’, which often entails close contact - this was a welcome exemption to physical distancing guidelines, Ms Poulton said.

The organisation has developed a ‘screening tool’ for staff – an infection control checklist to be completed before entering each client’s home.

It is also supplying home care support workers with personal protective equipment, including disposable gloves, aprons, hand sanitiser and facemasks (for use only when the client requests it).

Omnicare Home Modifications and Maintenance Service is undertaking work on a case-by-case basis, with a similar level of infection control measures in place.