A survey of more than 2,300 disability support workers by the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Sydney has revealed the initial experiences of workers during the outbreak of COVID-19.
Commissioned by Health Services Union, Uniter Workers Union and Australian Services Union, the report revealed that COVID-19 has massively increased the risks of working in disability services.
One of the main areas of concern raised by disability workers in the survey was the lack of planning for the disability sector and feeling like the disability workforce was being overlooked.
Health Services Union National Secretary, Lloyd Williams, says, “There has rightly been emphasis on the impact of COVID-19 on health sector workers generally, but a severe lack of attention and support for disability support workers, and this must change.
“Disability workers are essential workers. They provide critical services to the most vulnerable people in our community and deserve the additional support.”
A lack of PPE and inadequate safety protocols continues to remain an area concern for the disability sector.
Director of disability service provider Komplete Care, Linda Sharrock, says that the thing that has impacted carers and disability support workers the most is having to up the ante with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and there not being enough available.
Ms Sharrock adds that for workers “There is a fear that when they go somewhere, they are more hypersensitive. In some ways, we want, you know about hygiene and about social distance and all that stuff.
“I have seen some workers acting irrationally, in the sense that they want to get checked out for COVID-19 even though they haven’t got any symptoms.”
Other areas of concern raised by workers in the survey include:
Day programs, group homes, and community access activities remaining in operation.
Disruption to clients’ routines and activities, which has created additional risks to client wellbeing and safety.
Anxiety about the COVID-19 situation and workforce issues.
Uncertainty about the future of their work.
The inability to effectively self-isolate and the financial impacts of having to do so.
United Workers Union National Director, Demi Pnevmatikos says the comments provided by workers expose fundamental flaws with the disability services system and the fee-for-service model under the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
“It has left workers feeling dangerously under-equipped and overlooked, which in turn exacerbates the vulnerabilities of people with disability and the disability workforce at the same time.
“The key findings including lack of PPE, concerns around safety protocols and risks, and workload issues must spur action to assist this vital workforce during the coronavirus crisis.”
The impact of the COVID-19 outbreak is likely to permanently change things for disability workers and they way infection control is managed, says Ms Sharrock.
“I am hoping some things will change for the better out of it, but I think at the same time things like social distancing [are going to take longer]. I think that’s going to take a while before people feel comfortable getting to close to people. It’s changed the way we interact with people in general.”
You can also visit our dedicated COVID-19 information page for the latest updates on how COVID-19 is impacting the disability sector.
How has of COVID-19 impacted you? Tell us in the comments below or send us an email at [email protected].