She said many providers were paying their casual workers to stay home when they were unwell, even though they were not entitled to sick leave, but could not afford to keep doing so.
Professor Kelly on Tuesday acknowledged the concerns as 107 staff and residents at a Sydney residential facility were placed in isolation after a healthcare worker tested positive to COVID-19 – the second such incident this week.
“In relation to casual workers, that is an extra issue,” Professor Kelly said. “And we need to look at that in terms of support that might be able to be put in so that there isn’t that incentive to continue to soldier on, because that is so dangerous – particularly in aged care and other vulnerable group settings.”
Unions have warned that casual workers may feel they have no other option but to go to work with cold-like symptoms.
Professor Kelly said it was “a concern that a healthcare worker did go to work, I believe for several days, whilst they were sick” at an aged care facility. “If you are sick, please stay at home,” he said.
Ms Sparrow pointed to research conducted by accountancy firm StewartBrown last year that found many home and residential aged care providers were at risk of collapse, with 56 per cent operating at a loss.
Along with the Aged Care Guild, Anglicare, Baptistcare, Catholic Health Australia, Leading Age Services Australia and UnitingCare, Ms Sparrow called for a support package for the sector including at least $250 million for home care and $546 million for residential care.
The sector also wants $500 million for IT upgrades and training to help aged care recipients connect with loved ones to “reduce isolation and loneliness”, and an uncapped workforce fund to support workers who needed to isolate.
“Many providers were already at risk of collapse prior to the escalation of the COVID-19 pandemic and the crisis is pushing us even closer to breaking point,” the peak bodies said in a joint statement.
Ms Sparrow said the aged care sector faced similar risks to the aviation, tourism and hospitality sectors.
“We’re a potential huge employer for people who’ve been displaced elsewhere,” she said. “With retraining and the right support, they’ll be able to come in and work in aged care.”
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Dana is health and industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.