You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Aboriginal community's quick response shielding elders from COVID-19 a marked contrast to aged care

ABC Health logo ABC Health 16/10/2020 By Evan Morgan Grahame
a person wearing glasses and smiling at the camera: Ballarat and District Aboriginal Co-op CEO Karen Heap acted quickly to protect elders from COVID-19 (ABC Ballarat: Evan Morgan Grahame) © Provided by ABC Health Ballarat and District Aboriginal Co-op CEO Karen Heap acted quickly to protect elders from COVID-19 (ABC Ballarat: Evan Morgan Grahame)

In one of the bombshells of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, this month it found the Federal Government's efforts to prepare the sector for COVID-19 were "insufficient".

As of mid-October, 682 Australians had died of the virus in aged care settings since the beginning of the pandemic.

But for the people working at the Ballarat and District Aboriginal Co-op (BADAC), elders were the first people they thought of.

CEO Karen Heap said she immediately recognised the risk COVID-19 posed back in mid-March.

"So we, as an organisation, knowing that the vulnerability of our community would be high, we felt that we needed to act quickly," Ms Heap said.

"So we did."

Realising that the impending lockdown would limit in-person visits, BADAC staff started making calls.

"Staff members that were working from home had lists of community members, elders as well as others, to ring to see how they were.

"We also provided a service to do the shopping for them. We had workers that would go in and get the list off the elders, the money off the elders, and then go and do the shopping for them."

Home visits as much about interaction as assistance

BADAC home care provider Brian Meloury visits elders in the community and helps them with daily chores.

"Mopping, vacuuming, stuff that as you get older your back doesn't allow you to do," Mr Meloury said.

"Half the time it's not about going there and sweeping the floor or mopping, it's that interaction with another human.

"Just being able to talk to somebody and have an ear to listen."

Mr Meloury said a number of elders pre-emptively cancelled visits because of the virus.

"They were afraid," he said.

The panic-buying that plagued the first few weeks of the lockdown made life for BADAC's volunteers difficult too — it was difficult to cook meals when the supermarket shelves had been stripped.

"When people were panic-buying bulk mince, bulk toilet paper, having to go to five different supermarkets, definitely made it more challenging," Mr Meloury said.

'Why isn't anyone coming to visit me?'

Nikki Bell, 26 years old and a youth engagement worker at BADAC, said the social bond between elders and young Aboriginal people is a cherished cultural connection.

"My grandma's 97 and she's living in her own home," Ms Bell said.

"No one was allowed to go there [because of the pandemic].

"And I know that she was getting a bit confused, she was angry. [She said] 'Why isn't anyone coming to visit me?'

"And so we had to explain this [virus] is why we're not actually allowed to come in."

Ebony Sladdin also works with young people at BADAC and said she changed her own behaviour to protect the elders in her life.

"As a young person I wasn't really wanting to go and see my friends and do things with them, just in case they became infected with COVID," Ms Sladdin said.

"And then possibly running the risk to those [elderly] family members."

A bond 'broader community could take on board'

Ms Heap said reverence and respect for elders was a tenet that was pervasive across the plethora of Aboriginal cultures.

"Elders are teachers. They have taught us our history and culture, our laws, all the things that we need to know as Aboriginal people to survive in this country," she said.

"We've got to make sure that they stay well, to be able to pass that history down to our generation.

"Our older generations, no matter who they are, should be respected and looked after. It's an important thing that we do respect them and look after them because they've looked after us.

"The broader Australian community could look at that too and take that on board.

"I think it's important. They're a part of your life and they're part of your history, so you should nurture that."

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon