More than 70 cases of coronavirus have been recorded in disability care in Victoria, and advocates fear the sector could be headed for a similar crisis to aged care without greater support.
- Victoria has recorded 71 cases of coronavirus in disability accommodation, including 24 in residents
- More than 30 sites are affected
- The State Government has set up a rapid response outbreak unit to help the sector
Women with Disabilities Victoria chief executive Leah Van Poppel said the disability community was worried about the spread of the virus in group homes that support people with disabilities.
“It is a real concern and it has been a real concern in the disability community since the start of the pandemic,” she said.
“Because of the casualised nature of staff and the sometimes small staff pool organisations are relying on, and because of the close nature of contact that people with disabilities have.”
The Victorian Government has recorded 71 cases of coronavirus in disability accommodation, including 24 residents and 47 staff members.
There have been two deaths.
Positive cases have been detected at more than 30 sites.
Ms Van Poppel said people living with disabilities were more prone to complications from coronavirus because of the conditions they may already have.
She said there was a concern the sector could see case numbers rise quickly, similar to what had happened in Victorian aged care, where there had been more than 1,500 cases and more than 100 deaths.
“We need to do everything we can to make sure the situation doesn’t escalate,” Ms Von Poppel said.
She said disability care providers and government organisations needed to learn from the aged care experience.
“We should see staff being able to self-isolate as they need to.”
Group homes are supported accommodation for up to six people.
It is estimated more than 6,000 people with disability live in group home settings — supported accommodation for up to six people — respite care across the state.
The chief executive of the Victorian Advocacy League for Individuals with Disability (VALID), Kevin Stone, said the sector had feared coronavirus would spread into and between group homes.
Ms Stone, who has a son living in a group home, said the figures made it clear a lot more needed to be done to protect people with disability.
“My real fear here is that the absence of a professionalised, well-supported, well-trained, well-paid and stable workforce for people with disability could actually be one of the disasters that this country may well live to regret.”
He said he was aware of a staff member wearing a mask incorrectly while supporting a resident, and those kinds of practices were “unforgivable”.
Victoria’s Chief Health Officer, Brett Sutton, said specific guidance had been issued to disability care providers about stopping the spread of coronavirus.
He said the sector had differences to aged care.
“Certainly the workforce is a little bit more stable in the sense of not working across as many locations as has been the case in aged care,” he said. “That is one positive.”
In a statement, a State Government spokesperson said a dedicated disability rapid response outbreak unit had been set up. It had helped to distribute personal protective equipment (PPE) to the sector, which it said was largely run and regulated through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
But the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission said the Victorian Government had oversight of about 45 per cent of residential disability services.
“The NDIS Commission is working closely with the Department of Health and Human Services and the NDIA (National Disability Insurance Agency) to monitor the disability sector and to support providers where infections are identified,” it said in a statement.
The NDIA said it had been supporting the sector by offering outreach services to NDIS participants and helping to distribute PPE.
Victorian Opposition health spokeswoman Georgie Crozier said the spread of the virus in disability housing showed the problems the state was having with community transmission.
“That is what happens when you don’t do the proper contact tracing and have widespread community transmission — the coronavirus will get into vulnerable communities like the disability sector,” she said.
Ms Crozier said the sector needed more federal intervention, similar to what had occurred with the state’s aged care sector.