Aged-care operators are also pushing for staff members to be tested for coronavirus, as the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee weighs expanding the criteria for testing of doctors after a spike in GPs calling in sick with mild cold symptoms put emergency rooms under pressure.
Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said on Wednesday that while only people with a relevant travel history or exposure to a confirmed case needed to be tested, this could be widened as the government expanded testing capacity.
Providers are also anxious to know whether they can use the federal funds to keep paying casual workers who self isolate, to prevent staff from coming to work sick.
Mr Hunt said on Wednesday funds would be available to cover “temporary shortages or additional costs” of staffing aged care centres.
Aged Care Quality Commissioner Janet Anderson told a Senate estimates hearing in Canberra last week a previous survey had found only 97 per cent of operators had “adequate infection control processes in place”.
That figure would mean about 80 aged care facilities – housing thousands of elderly residents – could be at increased risk of a coronavirus outbreak.
Health Services Union secretary Gerard Hayes said substantial investment was needed to bring aged-care operators up to standard, calling on the government to significantly increase funding to the sector to ensure adequate staffing.
“Our discussions with big players in the industry reveal that most are lucky to have two days’ worth of protective equipment, let alone the two weeks’ worth required for a 14-day lock down,” he said.
“Members have resorted to reusing ill-fitting disposable gloves, for example.”
Mr Hunt said the government had capacity to assist aged-care operators with a shortfall of protective equipment through the national medical stockpile.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said on Friday aged-care centres were “a particular challenge”, especially when dealing with dementia patients – who make up about half of the 282,000 Australians in residential aged care.
Mr Hayes called on the Aged Care Quality Commission to make the findings of its coronavirus audits public, so older Australians and their families could make “informed choices”.
The commission, which last year replaced the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency and Aged Care Complaints Commission, received $71 million funding in the 2019-20 budget.
An audit of 90 aged-care centres by the commission in 2018-19 found 89 failed to comply with the aged-care quality standards.
Aged and Community Services Australia chief executive Patricia Sparrow said providers had “some of the best disease control measures out there, because we are dealing with a vulnerable group every day”.
Dana is health and industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.