The COVID-19 Delta variant is hitting hard, testing communities, organisations and individuals. Your pandemic planning is important to meet the impact.

When Delta hit the Shepparton community recently, a quarter of the population of this regional town went into isolation. With reports that 20,000 people were quarantined, shops shut, services slowed, and the town was unable to access even the essentials.

As soon as she heard from community services organisations about the impact this was having on service delivery, BLCW Regional Coordinator Clare Malcolm launched into action.

A town in isolation

Shepparton is a regional community in Victoria with a population of 65,000. On 20 August 2021, this small town recorded its first case of COVID-19 plunging up to 20,000 people into isolation for 14 days.

“Regional areas are so vulnerable in these times,” says Clare. “With so many people going into lockdown every service in the town was disrupted. Supermarket staff and delivery drivers were in isolation not to mention aged care and disability services operating on skeleton staff.

“People were suddenly unable to access basic resources. There was so much demand for food and essential items but a lack of workers.

“The Australian Defence Force were called in to support the community. They took up all the accommodation in the region leaving nowhere for aged care and disability surge workforce to stay if this was needed.

“Getting Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to the area was also a challenge. Last year the NDIA covered PPE to the tune of $1-50/day but that hasn’t been reinstated this time.

“Getting masks, face shields and gloves to regional areas in isolation is another challenge people need to think about in pandemic planning,” advises Clare.

How Industry and Government worked together

Within 24 hours BLCW convened a meeting in partnership with NDS to lead continued service delivery, particularly for the aged care and disability services.

Clare spent hours on the phone to service providers to gauge how they were coping and what their needs were.

“A lot of staff had been put off and some service providers had to cease services entirely,” explains Clare.

“Twenty percent of the aged care workforce with one provider were in isolation. These are services that are dealing with high needs and complex participants.

“Working with Government and Industry was critical to our response. We engaged with National Disability Services and the Department of Human Services to work with and convene an emergency meeting.

“At this first meeting service providers were given a platform to voice their concerns. We had 46 people in attendance.

“At the second meeting Government were given an opportunity to report back on action that was taken, and we had 38 people at this meeting,” says Clare.

The outcome

At the time of speaking to Clare the region was at day 13 of isolation with emergency workers preparing for everyone to be tested before isolation ended the next day.

“We continue to work with Government and Industry to make sure specific Industry issues are considered and unique communications are developed for disability and aged care sectors in the emergency response.

“Given the number of deaths in aged care, there was no unique response for that sector, nor for disability.

“The next meeting will cover pandemic scenario planning to put new protocols in place and review already existing ones.

“Government and Industry will come together again to play out scenarios specific to aged care, disability, surge workforce, medication, food and resources,” explains Clare.

What you need to consider

“This scenario could happen in any town and the same problems would play out,” says Clare.

“Some service providers may not reopen due to limited cash reserves. Assessing your organisation’s financial resilience is critical in scenario planning.

“But it’s not just financial resilience that needs to be considered. The resilience of your people is a very real concern. Burn out and fatigue is so common when this level of disruption happens.

“How will you prepare your workforce to be emotionally resilient and care for their mental health and wellbeing?

“Service providers need to implement strategies on how to rebuild their team’s mental and emotional resilience when it’s depleted,” advises Clare.

Is your community ready?

With the rise of Delta across the nation now is the time to test your organisation’s pandemic planning with real-life scenarios like this one. Download CSIA’s scenario planning templates today.

CSIA also has all the resources you need to build your organisation’s financial resilience to respond to unprecedented change.