VCOSS and DHHS are running a monthly discussion forum to guide community organisations through the COVID-19 pandemic.
This most recent forum was run on 6 August 2020, with:
- Dr Finn Romanes (Public Health Commander, COVID-19)
- Andrew Crisp (Emergency Management Commissioner)
- Matthew Hercus (Director, DHHS Mental Health)
- Simone Corin (Acting Deputy Secretary, DHHS )
- Argiri Alisandratos (Deputy Secretary, DHHS)
- Jeroen Weimar (Community Engagement and Testing, DHHS)
Emma King: Welcome to our Community Sector COVID-19 forum. I’d like to welcome you all here today and to recognize the traditional owners of the land upon which we all meet and to pay my respects to elders past, present, and emerging.
Since our last webinar just a month ago, the situation has changed significantly. We’re now on to stage four restrictions. We’ve got many industries and workplaces that are closed, and we’ve got many young people and families impacted by the closure of schools and childcare centers as well. Community organizations are still out on the frontline. They’re providing vital health and support for, support services for vulnerable people and others who are at risk. Others are working out innovative ways to keep people connected and supported while they shelter at home.
We at VCOSS extend our sincere thanks to the community sector organizations, to thousands of workers who are out there doing their best to help every single Victorian. We know there are others who are working out innovative ways to keep people supported. And we really want to thank people for your critical work during this very, very important time.
So today’s webinar is particularly timely, particularly as we navigate what our new sort of permit arrangements for staff who were either having to go in to provide frontline services, or who are working to support others as they move around the community as well.
We are very, very lucky today to have Finn Romanes with us. Finn is the public health commander, and he’s joining us today in what I know has been a very busy and challenging week for him. Thank you very much for joining us today, Finn.
Dr Finn Romanes: You’re welcome, Emma.
Emma King: I might just start with asking you if you could give us a sort of general update in terms of the, sort of the key announcements? Given that we’re moving so quickly, I know it’s really hard for people to kind of keep track of what’s taking place. So, it’d be really great to hear that directly from you. Thanks.
Dr Finn Romanes: No problem at all.
Look, it’s, first to speak to everyone about how challenging this time is, clearly we’re at an absolute critical point in the outbreak, in the pandemic. With numbers jumping between 400, 700, 700 new cases yesterday, over 400 today, 7,500 active cases across the state and 10,000 people in close, who are close contacts under monitoring, incredibly challenging times for everyone, including the sector.
And clearly, one of the things we’re doing now with these announcements this week and the restrictions that are coming into place over last night through into, later into the week, that I’ll talk to in a second, is trying to try and to really ramp it right up now, to drive the numbers down.
I mean, we’re in this second huge peak, and we really need to get things down and cut transmission off. We, as you know, and as everyone is aware, we are kind of fighting a battle here where the scorecard is between seven and 10 days behind both in terms of how many people there are of cases and also what that effect is on our community in terms of people being admitted to hospital and ending up in ICU and dying. So, we really have to do everything we can now. So, what the focus of these changes this week is, is around taking Melbourne to what’s being called stage four, which is really pulling back to absolutely the essential actions only, and reasons to be out being incredibly limited, to try and pull those opportunities for transmission or interactions between people to the absolute bare minimum.
So, that’s firstly gone, undertaken through this move to stage four in Melbourne and stage three in regional. It’s really bringing home that critical message about mandatory mask wearing across the state. And it’s also bringing in this, the first step of two really important steps about workplaces, where we’re seeing so much transmission. So, colleagues will have heard on the line that the first step was to introduce a direction, to require permitted workers to be able to attend work and to set up an infrastructure around trying to really bear down on how we could just make sure only those that are at work that really need to be. And then, and that includes a permitted open working list.
So, I’m probably going into a little bit too much detail, but the architecture of it is that, and it creates a lot of challenges for workers and employers, but people in the sector are doing critical work that needs to be done and clearly are captured by parts of the sector that can remain open because they have to. So, a lot of, a huge challenge for everyone. And thank you, just before we go into the detail, but thank you for everyone’s efforts and all the contributions they’ve been making.
Emma King: Oh, and a huge thank you to Finn, to you and to your team. And I know that you’re working into the day and night in terms of looking at meeting the needs of the Victorian community as well.
It might be great, if you’ve got the opportunity and any of, you might need to take any of this on notice, but particularly we do get lots of questions around things like PPE and safe ways to, in new words, I guess, many of us about donning and doffing masks and those sorts of things, is there sort of general advice that you can give people or sort of pointers that you’re able to provide to help people? Knowing, of course, we’ve got people working in a raft of different sectors from those who are working in, you know, community health environment
Dr Finn Romanes: Yeah.
Emma King: To those working in residential settings and others as well. So, a really, a huge variety of different types
Dr Finn Romanes: Yeah.
Emma King: Of organizations that people are in.
Dr Finn Romanes: So, what I’d say is that we have, the place where we’ve established a kind of the most clear and straightforward advice about personal protective equipment is in the general guide to PPA for health care. And so, that’s a sort of grounding that applies across health sector care and gives a concept of tiers of, tiers or scenarios that require certain approaches. And in that guidance, which is a couple of pages long, and is clearly in the PPE section on the DHHS website and COVID, gives you a good, I think if someone, if colleagues in the sector who are online and are interested, want to just get basically grounded in what the deal is with PPE and how to stay safe, they can have a look at that document to get a sense of how it’s done in the health sector.
So, then I would just say that it’s really about the basics. It’s about recognizing when people are ill around you, it’s about hand hygiene. And then it’s about just taking a careful approach when you’re working with someone who’s ill. So, obviously people, we need to all wear masks now at all times, including in the workplace, and that will help because it’ll protect the nose and mouth against droplets and some of the greater risk. And it also is a kind of reminder to you to not touch your face.
There’s quite a lot of dual reasons and value in wearing a cloth mask when you’re out and about in the community or a surgical mask when you’re working directly with clients. So, there’s that step. And then there’s just, I think there’s a bewildering amount of information out there on PPE. And it’s the basics are the hand hygiene before and after procedures with people, wearing a mask when you’re doing a splash procedure or something, if that’s relevant in a particular setting and then having some eye protection, gloves and a gown if that’s true as well, so the standard precautions. But it’s certainly the case that it is good to practice these things.
So, it is good to practice the art of putting on and taking off your mask carefully. So, not touching the front of it as you take it on and not touch, and learning to never touch the front of it. So, I think I don’t have a link to give you to a specific resource to access a trainer to come out to you.
But I think it’s about reading about the basics, keeping it simple and just practicing it and turning it over and doing it as many times as you can.
Emma King: Thanks, Finn. I think that’s really helpful. ‘Cause I think the point that you touched on is so right in terms of the bewildering amount of information and the fact that advice that we’ve got, you know, understandably, when we’re looking at really significant change, is it changes by the moment. And I think it speaks volumes to the work that you and your team are doing and the team across DHHS are doing that, you know, we’re seeing constant sort of emails about things from PPE to work permits, et cetera. And it’s that literally power of work that’s just keeping going, and it can be quite confusing for people. And some basic tips such as the ones you’ve been through. I know for all of us like myself who were not used to wearing masks, it feels odd. So, your immediate thing is always to touch the very places
Dr Finn Romanes: Yeah.
Emma King: On the mask that you shouldn’t. So, that’s really helpful as well. Are there any kind of observations around things like testing or other things that you wanted to perhaps touch on today as well? I know, there’s some of the questions that, you know, we sort of see this shift as we’ve moved into the, sort of, the stage four component, but I know again, it’s one of those around the testing regulations when you can, and when you should get tested, it’s one of those things that’s kind of changed as well. And I wondered if perhaps you wanted to touch on that today too.
Dr Finn Romanes: I think I go back to some basic messages about testing. So, it’s, the greatest, as we’ve seen more community transmission in Victoria, unfortunately, we are seeing that the proportion of people who are positive for COVID amongst those who are tested is slowly rising, but fortunately, so many people are coming forward to get tested still, which is fantastic. So we’re still at about a 2.8% positivity rate for testing.
In other words, you know, one in, fortunately 1 in 33 or, you know, one in, or almost everyone is still not having COVID who’s tested, but we’ve got to find, we’ve got to find it and get ourselves out and away from people if we’re symptomatic and we might have it to stop it transmitting, ’cause it’s such a slippery thing, it’s really easily transmitted, including while you’re well.
So, the message on testing really is still pretty straightforward, including for the sector. It’s, the focus is on anyone with a respiratory illness or an illness to get tested.
We, at various points when there’s an outbreak or a specific setting that’s affected by a higher attack rate and there’s actually COVID in the setting or in the facility or in the care home. We will do a round of testing of everyone, including well people, but broadly the message to everyone across the sector, the sector is still, if you’ve got symptoms, stay off and get tested.
If you don’t have symptoms, look out for them, but we’re not recommending, sort of widespread testing of well people across that many sectors, there is some work going on with the highest risk sector, in the meat industry, at the moment where there’s some rounds of testing are gonna be explored, but still a straight forward message, get tested if you’ve got symptoms, stay off until you get a negative result.
But if it’s negative, stay off until your symptoms resolve. So, you don’t pass the rhinovirus or the cold virus onto all the other staff. And then they all have to go off and get tested and so the cycle continues. So, it’s still a fairly key message, symptoms equals test.
Emma King: Thank you. And in terms of, so generally, I guess if people have got questions, I’m mindful, we’ve got some DHHS staff who are coming into the forum shortly as well. I think they’ll be able to direct people in terms of where to go to, just a flag.
And I know, just for people watching, I know you all have the question around if you’ve got questions about permitted workers system, you know, what services you can deliver and where to get answers, we’ll ask them of DHHS staff.
So, I just wanted to flag that at the outset here as well, because that’s probably one of our burning questions at the moment, given the materials that are coming through, through the night. I guess, any other sort of key health messages that you wanted to touch on Finn before? I know you’ve got a very limited time window today and mindful that you’ve probably got key questions that you’re getting from community sector organizations as well, keen to see if there’s any sort of key things that you want to share about those, before we move on to chatting with Andrew too.
Dr Finn Romanes: Well, I think you’ve mentioned, Emma, about how critical it is for people to be clear what to do if someone’s ill. And I think the basics of, or the foundation of what to do when someone’s ill at the setting is now being further strengthened through some workplace directions that are coming through over through Friday night. And essentially, and I know I’m talking very high level, but I really, I suppose I really want to transmit a view from public health to you in the sector that despite the breadth of and the depth of all the things that are going on, it does come back to some basic principles to stay safe. And so, when you’ve got a case in a staff member or resident, it’s really, again, about isolating the person, doing some work to look at who’s been around them for, there’ll be an obligation on workers and workplaces to identify close contacts, be ready to give those to the department so we can get those people off and quarantined as close contacts. And so, there’s now more things that a workplace can do to get ready to take faster action and especially isolating the symptomatic person or the case, the person who’s been diagnosed with COVID, or maybe COVID, and getting ready to participate quickly in a rapid conversation about how to clean and disinfect and the identification of close contacts, and then quarantining of those people.
Emma King: Thank you. And that’s a really great observation ’cause it’s one of the questions we get and often late at night, as well saying this particular things happen at my workplace, and I’m not sure what to do. So, I think it’s that part, as you say, around looking at what information you can gather, and what’s the key information that you need. So, I take it from that, as all the key information you need is often around looking at very close contacts and those sorts of things as well.
Dr Finn Romanes: Yeah, it’s that, it’s, if we’re going to, if and when we beat this thing together, we’re going to do it because we get people who are in potentially infectious quickly isolated, and we get people who are close contact of those people, quickly quarantined, those two things together. And then the cleaning of the workplace environment, those three pillars almost are gonna really help us get ahead of this thing.
Emma King: Yeah. Thank you so much Finn. Really appreciate your time
Dr Finn Romanes: Thank you.
Emma King: In being here today. I know, on behalf of everyone in the Victorian community sector and really the whole community, we can’t thank you enough. I know last night, I saw some of the messages being sent from, be it members of your team, DHHS, a ministerial level as well, there were emails coming through after one in the morning. I just think the amount of work that’s being taken is just extraordinary. I can’t begin to imagine how, what a challenging time it is in your working life, as well as for you and your colleagues. So, if you could pass our very sincere “thank you” onto you and your colleagues, we would just be so lost without you. And I just, we just want to pass on a very sincere thanks. So, thank you so much.
Dr Finn Romanes: Thank you. Thanks everyone.
Emma King: Have a great rest of your afternoon.
Dr Finn Romanes: Cheers.
Emma King: Thank you. And while we’re waiting for Andrew Crisp to jump on, he’s going to be joining with us shortly as well. There was something that I did neglect to mention in my introduction. I did also want to mention the fact that we had endeavored to get Auslan interpreters, we, Auslan interpreters with us today, unfortunately, we were unable to do that because I think as you can imagine, they are in high demand at the moment. As a consequence, we do have live captioning available. So, if you click on the CC button on your screen to turn that on, you’ll be able to have live captioning from there.
I did also want to mention while we’re waiting for Andrew to come in as well, that one of the other key things is we’ve heard loud and clear the messages around the process of frontline community services, if there’s a confirmed case of COVID-19. And I have to say as well, for those of you who either texted or emailed myself or members of the VCOSS team in the last few days around specific questions around permitted workers in your industry, how do you get permits? What about permits for childcare? Et cetera. We are working at speed with people in the department and at ministerial level, et cetera, to get clarification on those.
We literally had emails coming in from the team at sort of two o’clock this morning. So, I guess I’d ask you to bear with us. We are, we have lots and lots of emails from people individually. So, if you haven’t heard from us, that’s why. We’re waiting to get clarity. And we will be asking some of the DHSS staff who’ll be jumping online in terms of the best place you can go to get the answers to your questions. They’re not, it’s not necessarily information that we’ve got at hand today. So, what I’m going to do is, while we’re waiting for Andrew Crisp, I’m just going to do a quick intro, ’cause I’m hoping he’s going to join us on the line very shortly, as you can imagine, Andrew is incredibly busy in terms of being the emergency management commissioner for Victoria and unsurprisingly, is probably finishing off something else while he jumps into the call today.
I’ll do the introduction just while we’re waiting at the moment. So as you know, Andrew is working out of the state control center and he’s overseeing our response. We’re extraordinarily lucky that he’s making the time to be with us today. We’re going to step through a few sort of key issues with him around workforce shortages in residential aged care. And some of the things that perhaps we’ve seen on the public housing estates and know that Andrew was, he stepped into lead that response.
Some of the things they’re really looking at for scenario planning on that front. So, we’ll be touching on that. While we’re waiting for Andrew, his fellow, I’ll just mention to you, we’ve also going to have, coming online, we do have a mental health focus today from Matthew Hercus who is the Director of mental health and alcohol and drugs at DHHS.
We’ll be hearing from Simone Corin, at DHHS, around service delivery during stay at home restrictions. And she’s doing an enormous amount of work in the disability space, as well with some of her colleagues there. So, we’ll touch on some of those issues. As well as, of course, hearing from Argiri Alisandratos who is a regular attendee to these forums. And will talking to us around some of the work he’s doing around scenario planning as well. So, we’re looking forward to them coming on board.
While we’re waiting for Andrew to jump in, I think I just wanted to flag, we’re also receiving a lot of questions around areas. I think it probably stems out of some of the aged care work, around some of the residential services, whether they be for disability and others. So, we’re really wanting to touch on those particular areas. We know that’s a real, it’s causing significant challenges for community sector organizations who run residential services and other organizations where you might have a client who tests positive and looking at what’s the sort of practice that you need to put into place in terms of, you know, having a workforce that needs to be isolated, making sure that you’re able to take care of people and looking at some of the scenario planning that takes place.
So, I just wanted to, again, flag, we’ve had multiple questions along those lines and quite rightly, and more organizations have been raising those with us. So, we’re looking forward to being able to talk to Andrew and to the host of staff from DHHS that are going to join us to talk about those as well. So, we’re looking forward to being able to do that.
We might be changing our order slightly. So, just bear with me. I know the team is working to look at who is next in line, and this is probably one of the challenges we’ve all got as we’re doing this from our lounge rooms, which you will all understand as we’re all Zooming from home and doing our best to be able to step in. So, just bear with me here while we’re getting someone else in online. The advantage, one of the things we talked about in the lead into today’s webinar was in the past, we’ve been able to have people literally lined up in person and we’ve got a new, a new way of working at the moment.
I can see that we’ve got Matthew Hercus who’s just about to join us. So, we’ll get back to talking to Andrew when he’s available. I’ll just wait till I can see Matthew’s face before I formally hand over to him.
So, Matthew Hercus is a Director of mental health and alcohol and other drugs at DHHS and we’re going to, now I could see him there and he’s just disappeared. So, bear with me just for a moment. And we’ll hear from Matthew, who’s about to come back in, I think. I think there might be some problems with connection there. So, that’s okay. We’ll just wait a moment. So one of the, after the last webinar, one of the themes that emerged as you can imagine was significant issues around mental health and mental health responses. And we know as we enter into this next phase, that’s likely to be even more important.
Matthew, thank you for being adaptable and joining us a little bit earlier than was planned, much appreciated and perhaps Matthew, did you want to kick off by sort of any kind of general messages that you wanted to sort of share around the really critical work you’re undertaking on the mental health front as well? Thanks.
Matthew Hercus: Thanks so much folks for allowing me to be part of the conversation. I understand these are critical conversations which have been in existence and have been playing the way out across the COVID experience now for some months now, forcing, with some room to go. Absolutely, and thank you to the VCOSS membership, of course, for all the work that VCOSS organize, member organizations do and play in connecting people, connecting Victorians, and enabling us to get through this circumstance and this issue.
I might just brief on a couple of things, maybe, if that’s okay. Press brief on the then mental health observance and some of the data and some of the experience we’re observing. I’ll then loop back to some of the responses that have been putting in place. I’ll also emphasize some of the responses that we’re undertaking with the Commonwealth as well, just to give some context
Emma King: Fantastic.
Matthew Hercus: To those things,
Emma King: Thank you.
Matthew Hercus: Given that VCOSS members, of course, in many cases, not just state based organizations, they have bigger platform across a range of environments and range of settings. So, and as you suggested, Emma, it’s certainly going to be a time of magnificent impact on the whole of community, the whole of Victorians, the whole of the country, the whole of the world, there’s no disputing that. And where is mental health in this is a really important construct in the conversation.
Of course, it’s right and it’s appropriate that the very first effort around the pandemic was the effort through our physicians, our public health experts, talking about infections, tracing, contact tracing, and being prepared for the ventilator experience. That’s right and that’s appropriate. As things unrolled though and as stages and phases of community restriction or physical distancing or social distancing was starting to be kind of implemented or seen and observed as required to be implemented. Very clearly, our minds went to the impacts on the community. There are a range of different impacts.
There are certainly those folks who have existing needs, who have those needs and those pathways disrupted because of those community changes, that support needs and those impacts. There’s also a whole population impact here, there are folks and many of those among us in the community for whom life has never been impacted in the way it’s being impacted now, either in terms of the employment, housing, structures, community structures, et cetera, are really fundamental and foundational.
So, taking those two things, there’s certainly a need to have shore up, innovate, enable a response to those folks that are part of a system. Wherever that system of support may be now, but also look to mitigate and provide early intervention and responses and pathways for those who are experiencing, in many cases, potentially the first time, for the first time in their life, a major disruption, including affecting their psycho social wellbeing.
So, we’ve been watching closely, I suppose , is the phrase, watching closely a range of things working with VAHI, the Victorian Agency for Health Information, working nationally with our colleagues on the mental health principal committee and the national web of health commissioner and others, working to observe the impacts. And we would have seen recently our colleagues across, Beyond Blue, Lifeline, in particular, have done some media recently about the impacts on their call rates in Victoria. There have been, in some cases, 20 or 30% elevated, month on month, this month this year versus the same month last year and so on. And that’s right and observed.
At our health service and system level, we’ve been observing at the day presentations, observing the reasons for presentation, the reasons for calling and seeking help. And again, we’ve seen an increase and an elevation in that globally. I might pause for a moment and stop on the state’s rare restriction we observed in the first part in Victoria, and then coming out of that in states in the second part. In the first part, we saw a drawback from help-seeking, we saw drawback from the community in mobility, we saw a drawback from people attending emergency departments, we saw a reduced call on bed based services and admitted based services, effectively. And we turned, it turned down work and effort, and our service system towards a telehealth and a digital health modality to help enable that. And so, we’re out to see and observe data where we’re watching face-to-face contacts decrease, we were seeing tele contacts increase.
What became important as we moved out of that stage three phase one was a lot of feedback around tele-health and a substitution completely to face-to-face does not work for everybody. It does not work necessarily in relation to assessments and the fine detail assessments that might need to be undertaken for somebody. And certainly, a junk deal at best for a cohort of people rather than a modality of choice or even preference. So, you know, we were sitting and working with that as the outcome in reality and making our way through that. And of course, Victoria was where Victoria is now, moving back into stage four restrictions and now, into stage four in some cases. We stayed through the second time, we did not see the same amount of reduction in access to services, and I would put it positive that it’s reflective that the community at large didn’t show in stage three the second time, the reduced mobility that we saw in stage three the first time.
So, it’s reflective of that, that we saw, again, an increase attendance at emergency departments, an increased need for additions to bed based services and supports, increased calls to health mind and services have continued. We’re certainly observant and working with our Commonwealth colleagues around particular cohorts. Younger people are certainly a focus of concern and/or interest in any way, in fact that’s framed and observant to all those ideals.
In terms of responses, the government has two key packages that it’s implemented in relation to respond to the mental health components of COVID. There was a $59 million package in April which in the first instance, that looked at the broad population effectively, the population accessibility and requirements for access to telephone lines and support structures, et cetera, to look at targeted populations, to support key and leading organizations for the LGBTQIA+ community, aboriginal community responses are important. The lived experience, leadership organizations that peaks, that pandemic and academic leadership organizations, helping in enabling.
There was a degree of innovation also in that first package, innovation to help health services and providers both drug and alcohol and mental health community based providers access IT, purchase IT and the equipment necessary, equipment required to start that connectivity in the right sense. We also have some innovations helping health services, particularly broker phones, packages, and data. Again, a key gap is the digital divide we observed and we experience. And so, we need to bridge that gap and we also saw some innovations for younger people through the orange and digital innovation and building an app that, a platform, for genuine web-based interaction between the consumer and clinicians in ways.
In that first package, there’s also some stimulus to important Royal Commission recommendations to help accessibility of the system. And that continued on in the second package. In my office here in particular, I’ll focus on the hospital outreach follow-up program, Hope, it’s known for those that attend the departments and expanding that across areas of the state and support for the commitment to 170 beds that the Royal Commission has made as well. And our colleagues in mental health from Victoria are leading that.
We’ve worked on building, with the national cabinet framework and endorsement, the national mental health pandemic plan for us to share data in ways across jurisdictions, we haven’t always seen for us to work with the telephone lines, to work with the community based sector 3PH and funded organizations and work with hospitals and corrects in continuity. And I’ll give you a micro example of that in just a moment.
Right now, we are looking and the government is working hard on the idea of that acute end of the system. As I mentioned before, the presentation’s to the emergency department that help seeking to triage into urgent and acute services is important. I’ll spend the moment, and if I may, just on the, a concrete example of the public housing towers and one of the observance we’ve made as a result of that, where we brought together to respond to that environment sitting in the North and West of Melbourne, the first that’s been focused on the public housing towers, the lines, Headspace, PHN funded services, community health, community mental health, and acute mental health services in ways we haven’t done frequently before. In fact, very rarely. And it was really salient example of instance for us to understand that we needed to have that system aimed to end in the step care model, conversant and connected.
And so, to acknowledge our colleagues from Beyond Blue, and Lifeline and Kid’s Helpline. I mentioned Headspace, and the Headspace National, and our PHM colleagues and our Royal Children’s in Melbourne Health, on Zoom meetings and on Teams meetings, coming together, talking about in a unified way, a structural response.
So, there’s certainly a degree of targeted responses. There’s a degree of population responses, and there’s a degree of ongoing attention through working with the national body and the national mental health plan to the issue of modeling and understanding the potential impacts into the medium and longer term. That’s all right,
Emma King: If I could jump in,
Matthew Hercus: For 10 minutes, so hopefully I’ve got, oh?
Emma King: Sorry, I was just going
Matthew Hercus: Yeah.
Emma King: Jump in and ask just a couple of really specific questions. I’m not sure whether or not you can answer them, but thinking, for many people on the webinar who will be working with others and it was can I just acknowledge it, so, it was really great to just hear you give the public a, sort of a shout out on the public housing estate, where I know for example, looking at community health in that particular example, I know, I think more than half of the people who live on the estate, you know, proactively go to Co Health as a community health provider. They know them, they trust them. So, you know, it’s around that balance around, you know, the capacities of organizations to respond, but also knowing, well, actually, who is best placed to respond? ‘Cause they’re already known and trusted by their community and Co Health in that instance. And there were others such as Star Health who absolutely stepped in and assisted enormously, I think, in that as well. In terms of the people who, for many of our community sector organizations, they are dealing with people who have just lost their job. They’re feeling particularly isolated. They’re feeling scared. You know, I guess it’s some advice in terms of where’s the first port of call? ‘Cause often for someone who’s in that situation, they actually don’t know where to go. The answer might be a little bit different depending on place, but I’m thinking for people on the webinar, they’re the sort of questions we get about, actually look, we hear all the systemic stuff. That’s great, but actually what does it mean if someone comes to me and they need a hand, where do they go?
Matthew Hercus: Absolutely excellent question, Emma.
And a really practical question, and again, framing it to them, the response and the experience that somebody’s never had that experience before, they don’t have an established pathway.
So, a GP is always a logical pathway and we don’t often think of our GPs, given when we have them and I know they’re hard to get sometimes, but that’s certainly a conversation worth having with an individual. I think, secondly, in a population sense, calling to Beyond Blue, Lifeline, et cetera, are structured and set up to help people in a navigation sense, to help them think through what might be going for them.
They’ve got capacity for phone line directly, web based services and text based services as well. So, they’re really expanding their service offer, which is not necessarily just a telephone in a didactic sense, but it’s also a degree of complimentary there.
We also have built in a psycho-social recovery surface. So, it’s a bit of a midpoint service, so, using Nimi, XO, and each, three key services that have played a significant role in Victoria to help navigate through the NDIS. They have capacity to help in navigation. And so, the partners in wellbeing program is an important one. And I can send some information through,
Emma King: That’d be great.
Matthew Hercus: To yourself and your organization for distribution on this.
Emma King: Thanks Matthew. I’m just, I am
Matthew Hercus: Probably the last,
Emma King: Going to stop you, I was going to say, just to stop, I’m mind we’ve got Andrew on. And I think he’s only with us for a very short time. So, if I can just sincerely thank you for stepping in with for us today. Mental health is one of the, really the key, there’s so many key issues as we sort of traverse through this pandemic, but it is one of the key issues. So, we’re gonna look forward to working with you. And it’d be great if we sort of got questions that we need to deal with offline, if we can do those and then provide them to people who’ve registered for the webinar, that would be fantastic. But if I can say a really sincere thank you to you for joining us today. And I know we’ve, we mixed times around a little bit, so, thank you for being so accommodating. We really do appreciate it. Have a lovely rest of your afternoon.
Matthew Hercus: Thanks Emma.
Emma King: Thank you so much. We now have Andrew Crisp joining us. As I mentioned earlier, Andrew Crisp and, Andrew’s is well known to, I think, everyone in the Victorian community sector and everyone in the Victorian community as our emergency management commissioner of Victoria and has been very kind in making time for us today. Welcome Andrew. It’s great to have you here. Thank you.
Andrew Crisp: Good to join you, Emma.
Emma King: Thank you so much.
Andrew Crisp: And everyone. Whoever that, whoever everyone is somewhere out there.
Emma King: This is a new way, isn’t it? Zooming on in. The kind of key things, on mindful things, we’ve talked before about how quickly things are changing. Did you want to kind of kick off with a sort of the key intro before I get into some specific questions around some of the key work that I know that you’re undertaking as well?
Andrew Crisp: Yeah. Thank, thanks very much, Emma. Look, for me, when I look at what my role is as the emergency management commissioner, so, in effect it’s really to make sure that everything’s coordinated, that there’s effective control in relation, this particular emergency.
So, working with the state controller health is ultimately responsible for this current emergency that’s confronting the state. So, really important for me to ensure there’s appropriate structures in place. So, my focus has been very much around doing that, so specific operations, so I can rattle off a whole lot of names. So, you know, Operation Soteria, which is the operation for returning international travelers, so, the hotel quarantine program. Benisaire is the operation that was put into place when there was a need by some public health advice to, I don’t like the term, but lock down the public housing towers, then there’s Drasi, which is a testing operation that’s now expanded.
I guess the point I want to make in relation to those operations is they sort of started with, started as one thing and have morphed into broader operations. So, Benisaire is a good example in relation to North Melbourne and Fleming, to me, this started very much in relation to those particular communities and they are communities, but it was then about, well, where could there be other high risk settings where you have a lot of people living in close proximity?
So again, I know Argiri will speak to this. I think he’s on after me or later, but the work that they’ve now done to expand that particular program and being very, very proactive in relation to other areas, not just public housing, but other sensitive settings around accommodation and I’d suggest that the proactive work they’re doing now has been really, really effective. Again, you know, we won’t say we’re, you know, we’re a long way from being over this, but in terms of not seeing as many new cases in public housing is a credit to so many people under it that are now doing that proactive work. And for me, in terms of structure and where we’re going, it’s very much about that. It’s about, you know, what is next?
You know, we already know we’ve seen significant cases in abattoirs, you know, in poultry processing plants and a number of other settings, but we need to get ahead of that. And I’m sorry, that’s why I was late, because of these new directions and restrictions that have come in in relation to businesses now, and those high risk businesses where they need to have their COVID safe plan. You know, we need to ensure that we work with those industries, but at the same time, we need to be able to enforce where we need to enforce. So again, setting up another operation in relation to how we do all that.
So for me, it’s very much about sort of the structures and make sure we’re all coordinated. I’m here at the state control center at the moment. So, you know, the leads of all those different operations every day are speaking to each other. So, there’s, for me, it’s a lot of sort of pulling things together to make sure that there’s structure and there’s coordination, but at the same time, being very, very conscious of the fact that, you know, I’m not working in a bubble.
We are talking about individuals, we’re talking about communities, we’re talking about community organizations. And I know, you know, Matt’s was saying then and Argiri will say that we’re all learning in relation to how better we can work with community. But the important thing for me is sort of not throwing the baby out with the bath water, you know, we do it, we’ve got all these, we’ve got the VCOSS and all these great organizations, we’ve got local government that plays a critical role when it comes to emergency management. So, we need to keep going back to, you know, what are our systems, what are our processes and what works?
And I’ll be frank, I think that we’ve probably, at times, we’ve not reflected on that and gone, “Well, actually, if there’s more “that we can be doing at a local level “to support local government or local organizations, “then we should be doing that,” rather than setting up something that’s new. So that’s, I guess, that’s how I keep testing myself in relation to every time we twist and turn in relation to this particular emergency.
Emma King: Thanks, Andrew. And great to hear. I know I’ve had the pleasure of meeting with you previously and talking about that really critical role of community sector organizations as well, and just organizations that exist within local community and so deeply embedded and trusted in their local community as well. I don’t know whether we’ll chat with you about this as well, but was there anything, ’cause you touched on the public housing estates in Kensington and North Melbourne, and wandering out of free, you know, whether you could give us an example, some of the learnings, I guess, in terms of scenario planning for, as you mentioned, whether it’s public housing estates, rooming houses, student accommodation, et cetera, any kind of key learnings that you can see sort of straightaway that are pretty systemic? But I guess, by systemic and place based
Andrew Crisp: Yeah.
Emma King: In terms of what would be taken to really inform any sort of future approach where there’s a concern around COVID in those environments.
Andrew Crisp: Yeah, look. Thanks Emma. And not, it’s a good question. And one of my takeaways, you know, we always talk about sort of, you know, community led, state supported and don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of good work, but this, what I saw and I was so, so pleased with, and it took a few days to get there in North Melbourne was actually, you know, when we set up our emergency management structures, we talk about an incident management team or an emergency management team where you’ve got your traditional uniforms and your other key players.
But what we had at North Melbourne, we actually had community representatives, in on that incident management team. So, you know, they had a voice at the table, you know, they were influencing the work of the other agencies and organizations. So, you know, if there’s one main take away for me, that was a great example of that, how it actually works. I appreciate also that, at times, who is the right person or persons, and that can’t get too big because it needs to be very focused. It needs to be very snappy with what it does. So, it can’t be a community meeting, but at the same time was a great start in terms of how you get community at the table with the, I guess, the traditional uniforms emergency services and the key agency, the lead DHHS on this about actually feeding in that community voice.
Emma King: Yeah. And lots of learnings, isn’t it? In terms of looking at taking to the next response as well. I’m wondering, also, and feel free to guide me, if you’re not the correct person to answer this question. In terms of looking at workforce shortages as well, so, when we look up, for example, residential aged care, I guess is a prime example right now, but looking at, and we’re starting to hear similar questions in other sort of settings. So for example, looking at residential settings
Andrew Crisp: Yeah.
Emma King: For people with disability, out of home care, et cetera. And if we have one of the people who live in that facility test positive, we then have to look at how we work with people who live there, isolating the set of workers and then that sort of surge capacity within the workforce. So, really keen to know what sort of work EMV and yourself might be doing on that front as well.
Andrew Crisp: Yeah, again, that’s, that is just such a critical factor. So, you know, this, as we know, is an emergency that doesn’t impact on infrastructure like a fire or a flood,
Emma King: Yeah.
Andrew Crisp: But it impacts on people. And I know that’s, that’s quite simplistic, but it is. And we saw that, you know, very much so when it came to aged care, interestingly, if I step back, to probably three months, four months, we actually, we knew there was every chance that we would see, oh, we didn’t want to see, but the possibility of positive cases in aged care. So, we sort of scenario tested that, you know, tabletop exercise. And we went to sort of the roles of different organizations, what they would play. And it was interesting ’cause there was talk about workforce, but it didn’t go to the extent that we’ve actually seen, now that we had these positive cases in aged care. Where, and I know I would never judge anyone and I can quite well understand that some people just don’t want to go to work because of a positive case in a particular setting, whether that’s aged care or anywhere else. And we saw some of that at the public housing towers in North Melbourne and Flemington. So, I guess we’ve had to sort of rethink what that looks like. And when we talk about workforce, it’s everything from cleaners, if we’re talking aged care and other facilities through to the medical support that’s actually required. And we know that it’s so important to keep people on, particularly in aged care, in their facilities, that’s about, you know, we know there’s inherent risk in moving the aged to other facilities. So, it’s about what supports can you bring in too, to support people in that particular setting? So, there is a lot of work happening around that, and you touched on disability and we’re very focused on disability,
Emma King: Yeah.
Andrew Crisp: With a taskforce looking at that at the moment. So, yeah, so there is a lot of planning around workforce, whether that’s in relation to specific departments and the roles that they’re playing. Again, that last meeting, I just came off, it’s happening all the time. How can we, you know, there’s some redundancy in some departments because they’re not doing business as usual, but how do we pull those resources basically into the center and task them to where the greatest need and the risk is? This is all about workforce.
Emma King: That’s right, and you touched on a couple of really key things that members who are listening, it’ll be known who’ve had conversations about around terms of looking at how do you divert your workforce but also that really, that critical need when you’ve had a case, but you actually need to make sure that that facility remains staffed and dealing at the same time with what can be very, you know, very real fear that people are feeling at the same time. It’s a fine balancing act. And in a sense, I think a real fragility that sits around that as well. Yeah.
Andrew Crisp: Sorry. You’re right. And we probably, and I, you know, we continue to learn and I’ve learned, I didn’t realize what a casualized workforce that we actually do have in across particular settings, whether that’s aged care or the abattoirs and the movement of people. So, labor hire companies, transporting people from the Western suburbs of Melbourne, into Western Victoria, working in abattoirs. And then what impact that has and where people are actually, where they are living at those, or close to those sites, the number, the high number of people living in those particular settings. So again, learning an awful lot around this, but we’re doing that thinking. So, what does fruit picking look like? You know, where are the other settings where we’re likely to see lots of people in close proximity when it comes to living?
Emma King: Yeah, absolutely. And something that’s probably separate to yourself, but one of the things, I mean, that we would love to see come out of this, I guess, is that sense of, you know, the recognition around the enormous professionalism that there is around the community sector and the, this is, if we ever needed a light shined on it, from our point, I think everyone listening to this probably already knows but the critical role people play and that often it’s just not valued to the degree it should be. And we’re seeing the very gendered nature of that as well. Just lastly, ’cause I know you’re really busy as well. Did you want to, you sort of talked to it, when it came to public housing estates and the role that the community sector’s playing in terms of looking at the decision making, are there any sort of final comments that you’d like to make on that, or do you feel like you’ve sort of covered that off?
Andrew Crisp: No, I just think there are more opportunities. And again, Emma, I’m always happy to catch up and sort of learn a bit more about, you know, in our state emergency management structure and arrangements, you know, there’s, Municipal Association, Victoria, you know, sit on our state emergency management team and, you know, local government Victoria. Yeah, yeah, so if I look at that, that very sort of localized example, and when I talked about local voices on that local IMT. You know, what more can we do to sort of get the right voices informing and influencing more at state level?
Emma King: Yep. Fantastic, thank you. Thank you for your time, I know you are just so incredibly busy and thank you for the work you’re doing on behalf of all Victorians as well. We are just enormously grateful and very thankful to you for making time today.
Andrew Crisp: No, no, no, please. It’s all about what everyone that’s watching this is actually doing on the ground. So please, I always just talk about a big team. We’re all part of a team. Doesn’t matter whether you wear a uniform or not, whether you’re the most junior person, the most senior person, as long as we all perform our the role to the best of our ability, we’ll get out, we’ll get through this.
Emma King: Exactly right. Thank you so much again Andrew.
Andrew Crisp: Thanks.
Emma King: Have a great rest of your day, thanks.
Andrew Crisp: Thanks so much, Emma.
Emma King: Bye.
Andrew Crisp: Take care everyone.
Emma King: Thank you. You too. It’s now my significant pleasure to welcome Simone Corin.
Many of you will know Simone who has, who’s working on community sector support and responses during the pandemic. I’ve been very fortunate to work closely with Simone during this time as well, and know that she is working hard across the whole spectrum of issues that DHHS is dealing with as well.
So, Simone, did you want to sort of kick off? I know, I almost wondered when I was looking at this, the running sheet, I was thinking about the broad reach of things you’re working across at the moment. Did you do want to kind of give us some of the, I guess, for those people who are listening, a kind of key sense around some of the key issues that you’re working on at the moment as well?
Simone Corin: Thanks, Emma. And thanks for having me here today. In my lounge room, joining you all .
Emma King: We’re all in our lounge rooms, don’t worry .
Simone Corin: I know .
There is, there’s so much going on and such a breadth. And I guess we, as the department, trying to make sure that we’re able to support the community services sector in all of the work that, the really important work that people are delivering and keeping up, I guess, with the rapid turnaround of advice and restrictions. So, I acknowledge that it’s a really tough time for all of us as we, particularly, in Metro moving to stage four. And I think, Emma, you were talking before about where do people go to find the right information?
So, we’re working to make sure that we can get that information out because as we know now, people are needing to have COVID safe plans by midnight on Friday. We think that there’s been significant work undertaken by the sector to develop those plans already. And, but we’ve, I’m very happy to share so that you can send out to people the places on the department’s website, where they can keep that, where they can access that information, I should say.
Obviously also the requirements now to wear masks. And so, when you, across community services sector when working and now the need to have permits for people who are required to work on site. One of the key things that we’re also working too, is acknowledging the significant issues around mobility of workforce is one of the significant risks. So, I will just call out that there is a work, a working group that we’ve established that is particularly looking at that issue, specifically in relation initially to our disability services and looking at the risks of that, we’re working with our colleagues in the NDS, national disability service in Victoria, but also our colleagues in the Commonwealth in terms, and our providers to do the modeling to understand the implications of the workforce mobility, and to understand how we can risk tier that.
So, to support people in terms of understanding the implications of that across their workforce. And we will have a framework, we expect about that early next week is our plan. So, there’s a lot of work going on across the multiple sectors. And I think that it’s probably worth, perhaps, just reflecting on the work going on in the disability services space, because we absolutely are seeking to learn from what we have all seen, unfortunately, unfold in the aged care services and seeking to ensure that we don’t see that repeated for our people with disability and our providers in that sector. So, we have set up a disability rapid response group, and that’s something we’ve set up in the last couple of days. We’re working very closely as a I say, with our colleagues in the Commonwealth, in the NDIA and the quality and safeguarding commission, as well as staff across public health and other areas to really ensure that we’re supporting the prevention and the preparedness activities through the coordination of visits to the disability residential services, and making sure we get the right information out there and being able to act early.
So, the key things that we’re looking at is, in addition to being able to act and get the right people in place to support our services in the sector, are around those workforce issues. So, the workforce mobility question and the issue around that surge capacity and the capability to be able to bring people in when we need to, to provide those services and ensure people get the care and support that they need.
Emma King: Fantastic. Thanks Simone. In terms of, with questions, one of the key ones, I’ve mentioned earlier, I’m not sure whether you were online or not, but we have had so many questions from members about whether they’re a permitted industry, whether workers fit under a particular category that enables them to be work and understanding at the same time that this work is just moving at pace. I think I saw emails coming through at like two o’clock in the morning around work that people were doing. So, I really do want to acknowledge that as well. I guess, for people who’ve got those questions, I’m mindful, some of them are coming to us. We certainly don’t know the answers as you’re working through them. Is there a particular place that people can go to ask those questions and feel confident, I guess, in the response that they get? To think, “Yep, I’ve been told, we’re permitted, “I can issue a permit. “I know that, you know, I can feel confident in doing that.”
Simone Corin: So, there is a website now that and has all the information about permits and question and answers in relation to that. So again, happy to send that link so that people have got access to that. The other thing that we have done recently, and happy to also share, is a website, sorry, an email address where people can come into the department to ask some of those questions that we’re able to respond to those. And I’m just trying to see whether in amongst my paper here that I can find
Emma King: That’s okay.
Simone Corin: The location to give to you. But I think it’s probably,
Emma King: We can share that, as well,
Simone Corin: Share,
Emma King: We can put that on our website straight afterwards, so don’t feel too worried if you can’t find it straightaway. I’m mindful, we’ve got lots of questions for you and expecting you to have everything at hand when you’ve probably been up all night is a very unreasonable thing. So, we can put that up on our website straightaway and make that available to people because it’s, I think it’s one of the questions we’ve had, as you no doubt have over the last few days, we’ve just been inundated with responses of people saying, “Well, I don’t know.” And now we’re the extra layer of childcare over the top of that. And people are really concerned about, you know, wanting to make sure they’re doing the right thing by their staff and wanting to make sure that no one’s attracting fines and all those sorts of things. At the same time thinking, you know, if it’s left to individual interpretation, people are just worried that they’ll make a, you know, that there’ll be an error for which there’s significant costs attached at the same time. And working at pace to change things really fast. I think as we can all empathize with, I know we’ve had part of this conversation before as well, but in terms of staff who need to travel across borders, which is one of the challenges we’ve had as well, is there any sort of more recent advice that you’ve got around that, knowing that, for some of the people listening, they do have to travel across sort of border areas or in and out of stage four and stage three areas, for example. So, Metro Melbourne to regional Victoria or regional Victoria, you know, to New South Wales, for example, any sort of particular advice that you’ve got a lot on that front as well?
Simone Corin: I think, that’s right, Emma. Some, it’s difficult, in terms of being able to navigate some of that space. So, I think in terms of the cross border, like the New South Wales, South Australia type cross border issue that we’ve got at the moment, my understanding is that, in fact, people have been able to start to navigate that quite well, that the permit system up there is working quite well and people are readily able to get the permits that they need, which they have to reapply for every 14 days. So, it does make working difficult. And I know that people are changing their arrangements to make sure that they are working out which staff and which families are able to be supported on the sides of the border. But it is around having that permit with you. And the same, I think now, in terms of, particularly anyone who’s crossing from stage three into stage four, having that permit from work, to be able to say that you are working for a permitted reason.
Emma King: Yeah, and the other thing, just to mention, so, I did see today as well, just looking at the updated advice around permits more generally, just making sure that people are aware, if you’ve got an, you know, a staff member with a permit, the fact that they need the permit that needs to be signed by the employer and the employee, and they also need photo ID. So, I just thought that was worth calling out. So, I noticed that today and thought, I’m not sure that that’s broadly understood. And my understanding is also, so correct me if I’m wrong, that the employer gives that permit to the employee. It doesn’t fall on the employee to generate it. That’s correct, isn’t that?
Simone Corin: That’s correct, yes. It’s the requirement of the employer to provide that, yes.
Emma King: Thank you.
Simone Corin: And people can have that on their phone or mobile device, so, it doesn’t have to be printed. And we prefer probably that it isn’t at the moment, so yeah.
Emma King: Absolutely. No, that’s great clarification. Thank you. In terms of masks, are you able to briefly talk about, you know, we’ve had conversations as well about specific issues for people who are deaf or who have hearing impairments and some of the general advice that’s going in terms of masks in particular, in that instance?
Simone Corin: So yes, there’s quite a lot of work being done in terms of trying to clarify, particularly for the issues in relation to masks for people with disability. We are making sure that, obviously, all of the advice going out is accessible information, and we’ve got a core group that is working to develop that, but there are situations where, when you’re in a home setting or providing services where people don’t need to wear masks, where people need to be able to lip read or to be able to have access to be able to understand what people are saying. But also, we know that people more broadly are needing to be out in the community and interacting with people. And so, it is permissible to remove your face mask if you are communicating with a person who is deaf or hard of hearing where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication, obviously maintaining physical distancing as part of that. And as you, I think, referred to earlier, thinking about Auslan communicators and others, but yes, there is also work that is being undertaken to think about people who can’t wear masks and thinking about how we make sure that they’re not stigmatized in that process. So, there is some work underway actively at the moment where we’re working with partners, including Victoria police, about what that looks like. We don’t have the magic solution right yet, but we are working really hard to make sure that’s in place.
Emma King: Thanks Simone, much appreciated. And one last question, in terms of, how can organizations access reusable masks to distribute to community members?
Simone Corin: Thank you. So, there are a couple of ways to do that. And again, I’m very happy to share the link. So there is a place that you can essentially place an order. So, if you’re a community service provider with vulnerable people, then you can place an order. At the moment as the reusable masks are actually being manufactured and distributed, disposable masks are being provided in the interim, but it is from the department. There is also opportunity that people can get them from their GPs and their community pharmacies as well, but the department is able to send those out.
Emma King: Thank you Simone, and if I can say a huge, thank you. We’ve been working quite closely together over the last little while, and I know that I’m not sure that you’re getting any sleep I have to say at the moment as you’re working on all of these issues and working really quickly to try and resolve things as fast as you can in an ever changing environment. So, sincere thanks to you and thanks for coming online today as well. We really appreciate it and look forward to seeing you soon. So, thank you very much.
Simone Corin: That’s lovely.
Emma King: Thanks Simone.
Simone Corin: Thanks Emma. Good afternoon. See you.
Emma King: We’re now joined by a regular participant in our VCOSS DHHS COVID-19 webinars or forums. We started off with a hundred people in a room and it feels like it was about three years ago, as we’re all now fully Zooming from our lounge rooms.
So, we’re welcoming Argiri Alisandratos from DHHS, a huge welcome Argiri. Argiri’s going to give us an update on the planning for high density living scenarios, including public housing estates as well.
Before I kick into questions Argiri, is there sort of any general comments that you wanted to make by way of kicking off?
Argiri Alisandratos: Hi Emma, great to be here and lovely to see you and the team and thanks for continuing to do this webinar regular engagement with our sector partners.
This is an incredibly valuable opportunity, I think, just to bring all of the key people together and give an opportunity to provide information. So, really appreciate your continuing commitment, Emma, and your team’s, which is fantastic.
And I guess by way of introduction, I think what I would say is that we’ve been all working incredibly hard to support our public housing tenants. And as you know, the vulnerability, the challenges associated with the physical built environment, in high rise environments, means that we’ve got to take particular care. And we saw the challenge of what it means when, rates of escalation in terms of transmission take effect in a high rise, high density environment in Flemington and North Melbourne, and of course the impact of that, where a decision gets made that we have to stem the flow and try and protect lives, means that we had to shut down that whole environment with a whole range of consequences for the people within those public housing estates. And I guess, our aim now is to try and prevent that from happening as far as possible. And to do that, we’ve been undertaking a range of creative protective measures that we’ve been putting in place broad brought across the physical environment, apologies about the beeping that’s happening in the background, but there’s another meeting happening in parallel and Teams is just continuing to be annoying at the moment. So, sorry about that.
Emma King: That’s fine.
Argiri Alisandratos: So, on that, on that level, we’ve really gone hard at a proactive health prevention focus across all the public housing, high density, high rise estates for the very reasons about, this is about protecting lives. This is about making sure that people have all the right information, that we undertake the hygiene that’s required to make sure those environments are really clean. And there’s a rigorous hygiene regime that’s being put in place. And of course, providing a whole range of supports to the residents, both in terms of testing, provision of masks, provision of sanitizer and a health concierge model that is there to essentially be the front face of our response with the residents.
So, these are all really important elements of support that we’ve been able to put in place. And just to give you some data on the effort in that, so, we’ve conducted 9 1/2 thousand tests across all our public housing, high rise estates over the last few weeks, we are now at 229 active cases across each of, all of those environments in North Melbourne and Flemington. And I want to really emphasize that not withstanding the challenge of that environment, we started with about 300 active cases at the, at the height and those numbers were escalating.
We’re now down to 82, and those numbers continually drop, converse to what’s happening in the broader Melbourne metropolitan environment. And that just gives you an indication of the really targeted effort that we’ve been able to put in those high rise environments and to really protect those residents from further infection. And hopefully, as a consequence of that, positive consequence, it’s saving lives in those environments. So, that just gives you an indication of the level of activity. We continue to have our community services partners working alongside us, providing incredible support. We’ve had 7,295 calls through our 1-800 hotline, which has operated seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
Over 180,000 masks have been provided across the 57 public housing estates. We’ve door knocked more than probably 10,000, 11,000 doors across those environments and engaged directly with people, that just gives you a sense of the massive effort that we’ve been undertaking across those environments. I’ll pause there.
Emma King: Thanks Argiri, much appreciated. One of the things that it would probably be good to touch on, I think you’ve mentioned it, but just to go back, in terms of looking at, I don’t want to go into the, sort of the sensitivities, if you like, of what happened on the public housing estates in the first instance, so, really keen to look at the next steps which you touched on in terms of, I think, you know, hindsight is a beautiful thing.
There are lots of lessons learned in terms of what, you know, what might take place in future. I guess, looking at firstly what’s in place by way of support for people in Flemington and Kensington, but also the, I guess, the learnings and looking at the scenario planning, we talked to Andrew Crisp about this briefly before, as well as looking at, and we talked about the fact that it’s public housing estates, but also rooming houses, student accommodation, et cetera, looking at the scenario planning that’s there, because, you know, I don’t think anyone wants that particular instance to happen again.
And you mentioned, for example, concierges, et cetera, and others, I’m just want, thinking that, you know, for some people that may not be fully aware of, you know, the sorts of things that are in place. My understanding is, for example, there’s a really strong connection with local community health providers that work closely with people in the, on public housing estates, for example. So, did you want to touch a little bit more on the sort of scenario planning that you’re undertaking
Argiri Alisandratos: Yeah.
Emma King: Because clearly, the desire is to not have that kind of situation happen again,
Argiri Alisandratos: Absolutely.
Emma King: Clearly driven by wanting to save lives, not quibbling with that for one second, but thinking about the learnings and how we apply the learnings and how we look at scenario planning for other high density settings.
Argiri Alisandratos: So, much of what I’ve described in terms of what we’ve done more broadly outside of the Flemington and North Melbourne environment is really taking the learning, sometimes really painful learning, Emma, for, and particularly for the residents, who’ve had to endure that sort of lockdown and restraint to their liberty and their access, obviously. And we absolutely want to avoid that.
That’s why we’re putting all of those measures in place. You’re right about the importance of deep community engagement. And, you know, we meet regularly with the community through a number of different mechanisms. We’ve got a formal mechanism of a working group that is specifically targeted at the Flemington and North Melbourne environment. You know, you’ve heard me talk about previously that Vig Noon and Tony Nicholson lead that work for us in terms of convening the meetings, and bringing all the stakeholders together, that is a main mechanism for how we understand the resident needs, the community, broader community needs and all of the services that are there to support that need as well.
We replicate that now in other estates. So, we’ve stood up an advisory group in Richmond and Yara, for the Richmond and Collingwood estates. We’ve done, we’re doing the same thing on the south side of the river as well. So, these are elements that we’re pulling out from learning, deep, painful learning that we’ve had in Flemington and North Melbourne and translating them across to other environments, but not just dropping them in, again, underpinned by deep engagement with those communities.
And that’s a method that we’ve got now, rolling out across each of those environments, the physical hygiene, the health concierges, all of those elements have drawn from the experience of Flemington and North Melbourne, and now being applied through to the other estates. We absolutely don’t want to get to the point of where we got to with Flemington and North Melbourne.
That’s why we’re doing this in a more proactive, in a more planned way and with the right community engagement models that we’ve got in operation. And again, we are iterating the approach on a regular basis based on the feedback that we’re getting, based on the intelligence from our community engagement. And importantly, being able to, in a really agile way, deploy, in a targeted way, when the data, the public health data indicates a spike of activity and or transmission. And we’re looking at that data on a really regular basis, on a daily basis, in fact, to really make sure that we’re tuning our strategies. You touched on other sensitive accommodation locations,
Emma King: Yeah.
Argiri Alisandratos: Rooming houses, backpackers, hostels, we’ve been involved in SRSs, and we’ve stood up a whole cell that essentially is about proactively managing and reactively managing, once we see an escalation of outbreaks happening in particular locations. We’re using our community service organizations to support our relief and support effort. We’re using local government areas to really give us that support. And importantly, we’re using our health services and our community health service partners to really pull that effort together right across those environments, both in the public housing environments and in those other sensitive accommodation environments.
Emma King: Thanks Argiri, I think it’s really helpful just to touch on it to say, what is a really iterative process and lessons learned and it is that balance, isn’t it? Between what’s the systemic, more sort of a systemic approach. And in that place based a response as well, knowing that it is, it’s being mindful of what’s occurring in each environment and who are the community, who are the community groups that are most deeply embedded within each community as well? Which of course are going to look different.
Argiri Alisandratos: Yeah, absolutely, and Emma, it’s fair to say, you know, we’ve had some difficult conversations, really challenging conversations. And last night was an example of that, in Flemington and North Melbourne, where it was, it was a hard, painful, conversation to hear residents talking about their experiences and wanting to elevate the voice of residents within the context of what’s occurred. And particularly, as we try and pivot towards an environment where we want to take a different approach to the way that we support residents and manage our tenancies and think about a different, completely different, operating model coming out of a crisis and taking the opportunity to essentially re-conceptualize the way that we undertake tenant, supporting tenant management.
Emma King: Thank you, thank you Argiri as always for joining with us today, taking questions. And I know, I’m also very mindful, I think, each time it looks, everyone at DHHS has taken on a new role in response to a new and emerging issue as it comes to COVID as well. So again, appreciate the support and also the fact that we can have really kind of candid conversations around what’s working, what’s not, and how do we fix it? ‘Cause fundamentally we are all in this to say, how do we navigate best through this time together? We will get through it. We’ve got to do it together. So, thank you to you and you, and you know, the role you played in terms of working, you know, as a key partner throughout this, it’s just enormously valued. And I want to pass on my really sincere thank you for that as well, Argiri.
Argiri Alisandratos: Thank you. I appreciate it. And thank you.
Emma King: Thank you.
Argiri Alisandratos: For everything you do as well on the team, thanks a lot. See you later.
Emma King: Have a great afternoon. Bye, thank you. And our final speaker today is Jeroen Weimar from DHHS. Jeroen is, primarily, I think, I know you’ve had changing roles as well Jeroen, but primarily involved in terms of community engagement with communities across Victoria and particularly as it comes to testing. So, it’s fantastic to have you here today. I might ask, if you wouldn’t mind, just giving us a quick sort of snapshot around the key work that you’re undertaking at the moment? That would be great. Thanks.
Jeroen Weimar: And g’day Emma, and well, thank you for giving me a bit of time to speak with you all today.
And yes, like Argiri, I’ve been in this role for not as long as he has, about three or four weeks. Previously I was a CO at public transport Victoria and Vic Roads. So, I come at this from how do we work with the community in this critical service? How do I support the public health people to work on our strategy to suppress and eliminate COVID? So just, my current responsibilities, the focus really is around probably about three things. What is, there’s the sheer mechanics of running a very large scale COVID testing program. We have our own 189 different COVID testing stations all across the state.
Obviously a huge number within metropolitan Melbourne. And those are run through a series of public health facilities, hospitals, clinics, and so on, various Commonwealth clinics, respiratory clinics, GP clinics, but also a number of different retail popup sites. So, we’ve located those both in terms of the high volume retail drive-through sites that we tend to see on the evening news in places like Flemington and Keysborough, but also local community popup sites in key areas to ensure that particularly vulnerable members of the community can access those services effectively.
So that’s, that’s one part of my remit, probably the more important part of my remit is, how do we work with the whole Victorian community to actually provide good access and to deal with any barriers that exist to getting tested?
Emma King: Yes.
Jeroen Weimar: And some of those barriers, particular to on job, are physical. So, we obviously have many Victorians who will struggle to access some of our testing facilities. We’ve just launched, literally two days ago, a new call to test program, which enables any Victorian to call our COVID hotline. And if they meet accessibility criteria. So, if they’re not physically able to leave their premises for health reasons, and if they are triaged as needing a test, if that’s symptomatic, then we can arrange for a test, a nurse to come to them to conduct a test. Now, clearly we tried to target that service very clear at those who most need it, the most vulnerable,
Emma King: Yep.
Jeroen Weimar: And the most in need. And we’ve been overwhelmed at the last two days with demand for that service, which has been, again, a really-
Emma King: I’ve got to say, that’s fantastic to hear, ’cause one of the key things I’ve heard of, particularly for example, people with disability or those who can’t drive, one of the key challenges is, particularly if they’re symptomatic, they don’t, you know, they’re kind of looking at well, how on Earth do I get to a testing site? So that’s great to hear that.
Jeroen Weimar: That’s right, that’s right. So, at the moment, it’s based around a nurse, a nurse to home model, and obviously we are very keen to focus on those who are, who are genuinely housebound and who genuinely have some,
Emma King: Yes.
Jeroen Weimar: Have real challenges that we need to attend to, and to ensure they’re symptomatic, so there is a GP referral element within that phone service, but it, well it gets, as you say, Emma, really important to give the most vulnerable access to that critical testing service. So that, so the other piece, of course for us is, you know, we’re dealing also with social cultural language barriers around accessing the testing.
Emma King: Yeah.
Jeroen Weimar: So, we provide, you know, lots of information in multiple community languages. It’s about 55 community languages on our website, but we also know that there are certain groups who are harder to engage with the, if you have a symptom, please go and get tested. We know that that ranges from, you know, from otherwise healthy, robust young men in their 20s and 30s who don’t think it applies to them, but also, it also relates to particularly newly arrived, migrant communities, people who may have other concerns about the state coming in to get records from them, to get details from them.
Emma King: Yeah.
Jeroen Weimar: And all we want is your clinical information to see whether you’ve got COVID or not. So, we’re having to work very carefully with people in the way that Argiri is in his environment, around how we give people confidence, this is just about testing, it’s not about anything else.
Emma King: Yes.
Jeroen Weimar: So, there’s a lot of outreach that we’re doing in that space. And then the third area, and then I’ll hand off to you. I mean, it was around, we’ve got all sort vulnerable individual communities, but we also have vulnerable settings and higher risk settings. So, what we’re seeing with the penetration of coronavirus, particularly as we see more and more community transmission, is it’s happening, particularly in three different settings.
Firstly, it’s happening in the social housing setting, for reasons like we would have gone through, it’s also happening in an aged care because we know it has a very mobile workforce. We know it, we know that’s often the vector for coming in. And of course, people with NDH costs, I think are very vulnerable around and the impacts of COVID. But third is also having in harvest workplaces, you know, about 80% of transmission is happening in the workplace. Now, we have certain workplaces, like particularly the, the abattoir sector, the whole food distribution sector, commercial laundries, where we see, it’s a very easy environment for COVID to be transmitted. And also, it often involves some of our very vulnerable workforce, are the workforce living in very high density occupation, high density premises, or they’re maybe being a bussed significant distances, or that are working across multiple work sites.
So, we’re working at the moment with both employers and employee groups around how we can reduce the risks in those high, highly, high exposure settings and how we can manage any outbreaks occurring at those locations.
Emma King: Yep. Fantastic, thank you. And I think there’s a part, and we touched on this earlier before. It’s one of the challenges we have in our sector is, you know, a highly, fairly low paid, highly casualized precarious workforce. And this is really shining a light on actually how we need to make sure that people actually have enough pay through their work to be able to make ends meet in the first place so, we’re not put in this position, which puts them at risk. And in this particular instance carries that risk more broadly as well. And recognizing, I think, the really critical core work that people do in our community that we can’t overlook. One key thing I just wanted to touch on.
I know we’re really tight for time, but in terms of looking at, you mentioned earlier around sort of coal communities, really keen just to touch for a moment on the sort of the translation and other supports that are in place for people who speak a language other than English, when they go to get tested. Is that something you’re able to speak specifically about as well?
Jeroen Weimar: Yeah, absolutely. So the, we have a number of different tiers by which we do that. So, there’s a heap of information on the DHHS website in multiple different languages, I’d say about 55 languages that talks about the nature of the coronavirus and how it impacts people and what to do if you have any kind of symptoms, please go and get tested. And here’s where you go get tested. We’re also providing a lot of resources for our partners at local government and the local health care providers. So, there’s a lot of information through your local community health care clinics, through your local hospitals, through your local GPs, but also through local councils. What we’re starting to do, Emma. And I think we’ve got a long way to go yet, is we’re starting to also work with local community groups. I think, and Argiri’s got some really great examples of that. We’re starting to work with some communities in places like Wyndham Vale, where we’re working with local community groups and local community leaders to say, “Well,
Emma King: Yes.
Jeroen Weimar: “How do we, how can you help us communicate “with members of your community?” What’s, what support training information could we provide with you and how do we get it, how do we, how to we most get it to you in the most effective way? So, we’re starting to get into that space.
Emma King: Yep.
Jeroen Weimar: I think we have a lot more to do with that area.
Emma King: Yeah, which is really great to hear that’s underway. ‘Cause I think one of the key things we all know is the digital divide is really significant.
It’s significant, particularly in low income areas, but it’s often a real issue as well for people who don’t speak English, who, you know, for a whole range of people actually, in terms of just not having easy web access issues around, you know, access at all or whether you’ve even got a device. And I know with one of the community groups that I work with very particularly, you know, for a lot of people who we see, they don’t have an email address, they don’t know how to, you know, use the internet.So, we’ve got to make sure that we’re actually able to get to every part of the community. And it is often those very local community groups who are best placed to help there.
And just in closing, at the moment, I’m not sure if you can comment on this more generally, how long are people kind of on average, which that’ll be tricky, waiting for a test result at the moment?
Jeroen Weimar: So, the, at the moment, the average is just under two days, about one and a half to two days. Now it does, it does vary. I hasten to say that there’s quite a big distribution. And the reason for that is that we do prioritize high priority cases. And they can be because of either, these are the housing work that Argiri is doing.
Emma King: Yeah.
Jeroen Weimar: Tends to be priority cases, obviously healthcare workers, people who are critical occupations will be treated a bit quicker. And those priorities are located at the point of testing. So, on average it’s just under two days. I know there are examples where it’s taken four days, sometimes five days to get test results. We have a lot of work happening now to bring it all back in well under three days, because that’s really where we need to be. And we do recognize that it’s a difficult message for people that what we’re asking you to do, if you have any symptoms, please get tested. But once you’ve been tested, you must self-isolate until you get your test result. ‘Cause you may be positive.
Emma King: Yes.
Jeroen Weimar: That’s why you had a test.
Emma King: Yeah.
Jeroen Weimar: So, we need you to self-isolate for the hopefully two days before the test result comes through. And most of the test results will come through as a text message. But again, as you say, Emma, we’re having to explore other ways of getting hold of people to give them that information because we know not everybody has a phone and there are some, yep, there’s more for us to do.
Emma King: Yeah. Absolutely. And really key to mention as well for those people who do have to isolate. And often at short notice that there is help there in terms of basic sort of food packages, et cetera, that can come through. It is such a critical message. If people have been tested, stay home and we’ve got to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to support people in terms of doing that. Jeroen, can I say a huge thank you for your time in joining with us today, as you said, I know you’ve been with the department for a short while and come in and hit the ground running. So, look forward to working more with you and a huge thank you for all of the work that you’re undertaking as well, much appreciated. Thank you for your time.
Jeroen Weimar: Everybody, cheers.
Emma King: Thank you.
And if I can finish with a few, thanks in terms of, firstly, obviously acknowledging that we are in rapidly changing circumstances and again, thanking the community sector organizations who are at the forefront of response and always looking to deliver the very best possible for the Victorian community as well.
I would like to sincerely acknowledge and thank our colleagues at DHHS, with whom we run these webinars, really extraordinary partnerships that we’ve had that I think, partnerships that we’ve had in the past, but we’re really seeing how important they are when we hit really critical times, such as those that we’re seeing through this pandemic as well. We know that things are changing rapidly. We’re going to continue to get information out to the sector as soon as we possibly can.
I know the last few days is one illustration of that. As we’ve moved into stage four, as I said, we were getting emails at literally two o’clock this morning around some changes that have occurred in terms of looking at permits and permitted industries, et cetera. We will work to get that information to you as quickly as we can. And I know that collectively we are undertaking a true powerhouse of work and we will get information to you as quickly as we can. We’ll put it on our website. We’ll make things as accessible as possible.
Please do sign up to our e-news bulletins if you haven’t already, often the information that you may require is there. We will get you information that’s come out of today, particularly where, for example, you’ve got scenarios that are particular to your workplace, where you’re going to need direct help from DHHS in navigating, you know, what does directly apply to you on that front as well.
If I can also finish by acknowledging the extraordinary work of the team at VCOSS. The VCOSS team is amazing to work with. I know for pretty much everyone who’s on this webinar, you’ll be working with a member of our team and I have to say, they are going over and above every day as are the organizations that we’re working with to make sure that we are getting as much information out to people as quickly as we possibly can, making sure that it’s accurate and wanting to collaborate with our members. It’s something that we are, you know, we feel enormously privileged to do.
So, huge thank you to our member organizations. Please, everyone look after yourselves. We’ll see you at the next webinar. We’ve got them scheduled in each month now. So, very much look forward to touching base with you again then. And in the meanwhile, please take care of yourselves.
Thank you again for your time today.