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Coronavirus fears rise in disability homes after two deaths

Across the state about 6500 people live in disability accommodation, mostly in homes with between three and five occupants.

Disability Minister Luke Donnellan confirmed late on Monday that two people linked to disability residential services had died since the pandemic began.

El Gibbs, from People with Disability Australia, said all people in care were at risk of contracting COVID-19, including those in disability care, aged care or prisons.

“This is exactly what we feared was going to happen and what we had been warning about since March,” Ms Gibbs said.

Victorian Advocacy League for Individuals with Disability chief executive Kevin Stone called on the Morrison and Andrews governments to stop staff working across multiple homes.

“I don’t want to panic people because [the numbers] are still quite low, but we can’t afford to take any chances here,” he said.

Twenty residents and 59 staff in residential disability accommodation have tested positive to coronavirus.

Twenty residents and 59 staff in residential disability accommodation have tested positive to coronavirus. Credit:Randy Faris/Fuse

Mr Stone and Ms Gibbs want more transparency on which individual sites have been impacted and when and where deaths are occurring.

This week the state government announced in-home testing would be available for those who need it, including people with disabilities, older Victorians and carers.

On Tuesday, Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme Stuart Robert confirmed four major disability providers would offer extra support for people living in residential care.

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“These providers are able to offer advice, support staff and isolation accommodation for smaller organisations to access,” Mr Robert said.

Aspen Medical will now provide clinical first response for outbreaks and around 7000 high-risk NDIS participants will also be “proactively” checked on.

Aruma Disability Services has 16 active cases of COVID-19 at its homes, including 11 staff and four clients across four properties.

“Many of these are likely to be cleared in the coming days. We are awaiting test results and expecting them any time now,” a spokeswoman said.

Bill Shorten, the federal Labor spokesman for the NDIS, called on Mr Robert to provide detailed information about contagion rates, locations and deaths for people with a disability during COVID-19.

Mr Shorten said many disability care workers needed better training to care for residents in the pandemic.

The residential disability care workforce was highly casualised, he said, and very similar to aged care, with some workers employed across both sectors.

A state government spokeswoman said disability services were run through the Commonwealth and National Disability Insurance Agency, but Victoria was working with them to ensure the safety of clients and staff in supported accommodation.

She said the state government had set up a disability rapid response outbreak team and was helping the Commonwealth to distribute PPE.

“All disability support workers are required to wear a single use surgical mask when at work at all times – this applies across the whole of Victoria and we have distributed over 257,850 masks from our Victorian stockpile to service providers,” she said.

The body representing residential disability care homes, National Disability Services, has flagged concerns about looming delays in workers accessing protective gear through NDIS plans.

The group’s chief executive David Moody said care providers needed to get NDIS participants to consent to accessing funding to pay for their protective equipment, which could cause significant delays.

“Providers have expressed concerns to us about having to negotiate for participants to provide funding from their plans to pay for workers PPE,” he said.

Campaign group Every Australian Counts, which lobbied for the introduction of the NDIS, warned residents living in residential group homes were exposed to some of the same risks as people living in aged care.

The group’s campaign director, Kirsten Deane, said many people with disabilities and their families already led “precariously balanced” lives and the pandemic had thrown them into even greater turmoil.

“There’s just this incredible level of anxiety and stress,” Ms Deane said.

A survey of disability support workers by the University of Melbourne found that 23 per cent had not been adequately trained on infection controls.

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