THE outbreak at Kirrak House aged care in Wonthaggi took another positive step forward this week with the second round of COVID-19 tests of all residents and staff declared negative.

Bass Coast Health implemented its Pandemic Outbreak plan on Wednesday, August 5 following a positive test result from an agency staff member.

Kirrak House was already well prepared to respond, however an extraordinary team effort followed to protect residents and staff during the following anxious days.

Bass Coast Health CEO Jan Child acknowledged it has been a worrying time.

“The successful implementation of our Residential Aged Care Pandemic Outbreak plan, along with the dedicated staff at Kirrak House and skilled nursing and cleaning support from across Bass Coast Health, has meant we were able to strongly focus on continuing the best and safest care to our much loved residents,” Ms Child said.

“There is no doubt this was a worrying time for the residents, relatives and staff because we were not quite sure whether any transmission of the virus had occurred.

“We knew that our staff had been vigilant in wearing their PPE, and in cleaning and distancing, but this virus is so contagious, that we couldn’t be sure that we had mitigated its transmission.

“We have since had two rounds of testing for residents and staff and the fact that these have all been negative, is an excellent sign.”

“Our staff have worked very closely with residents and relatives, and as a team we have been able to put in place all protective measures.”

Staff transitioned overnight to new ways of caring for our residents. Kirrak House staff increased their commitment, as they have done since March 2020, by moving to 12-hour shifts to reduce the number of ‘change overs’ and to ensure continuity in care while staff were on leave awaiting results.

The focus on Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) within Kirrak House, with staff donning and doffing (changing) PPE between provision of each resident’s care has been a necessary and meticulous part of Bass Coast Health’s outbreak plan.

Staff have been working exclusively in the Kirrak unit, and working in teams to reduce contact within the unit, and Bass Coast Health bolstered staffing numbers to ensure there were many hands on deck day and night to keep a close eye on the residents.

“We have been proactively maintaining a good supply of PPE; deep cleaning all areas regularly; transitioning our meal services to single serve options; and most importantly, we have focused on maintaining strong connection and engagement with our residents’ and their families,” Ms Child said.

“We have been very grateful for the compassion, patience and support shown to us from relatives and residents as they have endured this very tight lockdown period. We know that this lockdown has been difficult and we are very appreciative of everyone’s patience.”

Assisting residents to engage in meaningful activities and meeting the mental health needs of our residents has been a priority during this challenging time and will continue to be a priority as we cautiously monitor progress over the next few weeks,” said Jan Child.

Regular conversations with family and friends of residents has provided important feedback and ideas, particularly around how to maintain connections during the necessary lockdown. Wifi access is being introduced next week to facilitate more online contact as Kirrak House remains shut to visitors. And options for visitation are being considered on a daily basis to support individual resident needs.

“While it is good to have the first 14 days behnd us, the Outbreak itself is not over until we clear the next 14 days of surviellance. During these next 14 days, we will continue to take every precaution and ensure close monitoring of our residents and our staff, whilst also maintaining communications with residents, families and our staff”, said Jan Child.

Bass Coast Health (BCH) was devastated to learn that a new agency staff member at Kirrak House tested positive for COVID-19 on August 5, 2020. This was the first (and only) case of COVID-19 within Bass Coast Health after a concerted effort over many months to protect all facilities from this highly contagious disease.

In line with the requirements of the DHHS and BCH Outbreak plan, Bass Coast Health made immediate notification to the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services, and to the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing. BCH instituted all the measures outlined in the Outbreak plan including testing of all residents and staff, complete lockdown of the facility, and furloughing of the six staff considered close contacts.