The group also says the future of staff caring for Australians with the most severe disabilities who are in full-time residential care is at risk because they have not been guaranteed access to equipment such as masks, goggles and protective clothing.
Karenza Louis-Smith, the chief executive officer of Melbourne-based carers organisation ermha 365, said the government needed to treat the disability sector the same way it had approached aged care.
Aged care workers have been granted priority for COVID-19 testing, will be given specialist preventative training for the virus, be paid a retention bonus and access to protective clothing.
“You wouldn’t shut an aged care residential home, but if we cannot provide for the most vulnerable, or stay financially viable that is what many residential care facilities are facing in the sector,” Ms Louis-Smith said.
The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age has been told one carer centre has purchased a 3D printer out of desperation to make protective face masks for its staff, while other groups have been told to “go to Bunnings” to source protection equipment.
The group has asked the government to make supported independent living services for the most vulnerable people with disabilities viable by adding an additional 30 per cent loading for every individual, enabling providers to cover the costs of replacement staff, risks of infection exposure, and additional cleaning and hygiene measures.
“This will ensure that those at risk of COVID-19 get support when they need it most, and that we can keep people with disability safe at home – not inundating the hospital system,” the letter says.
It also wants the industry to be defined as a “critical service” aligned and equal to aged care and for all carers to get priority access to COVID-19 testing.
“We have already closed many services in the interests of client safety from COVID-19. Any organisations in our sector will simply go under without government support,” the letter says.
A spokesman for NDIS Minister Stuart Robert said a range of measures to assist NDIS participants and providers during the coronavirus pandemic had been announced, among them financial assistance to providers to support retention of workers including advance payments, 10 per cent coronavirus loading on some supports and changes to cancellation policies.
“In addition to measures already announced, the government has announced a $320 billion economic package for Australian employers, including not-for-profits,” he said.
“This includes support for all business, including the disability sector, where employers will eligible for the JobKeeper subsidy, subject to meeting the criteria.”
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Rob Harris is the National Affairs Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra