Just as with our St Vincent’s Health colleagues in the public and private hospitals, the financial year for St Vincent’s Care Services was dominated by the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020.

Even before the virus reached our shores, from overseas experience it was clear that elderly people were the most susceptible to its impact. Similarly, unless strict infection control protocols were followed, residential aged care services were the most highly vulnerable locations for its transmission.
St Vincent’s Care Services responded immediately by introducing a framework of care to keep both its residents and staff safe.
Those actions included making sure all staff had received their updated flu vaccine, that thermal temperature devices were in place at the entrances of all our facilities, that all resident-facing staff had received training in the appropriate use of PPE, and all staff and visitors were to wear masks at all times.
In line with regulations set by federal and state governments designed to keep residents safe and our sites COVID-free, we also placed some restrictions on visits, including making the difficult decision to temporarily end visits by volunteers.

But while life and work in our residential aged care sites became more challenging during the pandemic, across the board our people rose to the occasion and performed exceptionally.
For example, in order to overcome the inability of family and friends to visit their loved ones, staff – recognising the importance of communication and contact with the outside world – supported residents in learning how to use mobile phones and tablets, and apps such as Zoom and Skype, to stay in touch with their families.
Staff also used inventive ways to facilitate face-to-face contact while respecting social distancing restrictions, such as by introducing ‘visitor windows’ and other initiatives at our sites.
From the beginning we also understood the importance of site managers and our consumer experience team keeping in regular contact with families and providing a constant flow of updated information about the care and safety of their loved one.
So much so that Care Services sent a total of 150,725 SMSs and 440,810 emails to families and clients during the first four months of the pandemic.

The end result of this hard work was that between March and October 2020, and across our 20 residential aged care sites, Care Services reported only two COVID-positive cases among staff and two among residents in independent living units at one Queensland site.
There we no reported COVID-positive cases among those living in our residential aged care.
And despite the government’s tough restrictions on visits by family members and loved ones, we managed this result while still facilitating almost 50,000 visits for exceptional circumstances.
This is a remarkable outcome and reflects the success of both Care Services’ frontline staff and executive working closely together under extraordinarily stressful and demanding circumstances.
A further indication of the positive impact of Care Services’ approach – beyond their successful management of the pandemic – is that over the course of the year, resident satisfaction rose seven points to 96 per cent.

RESIDENTS HAVE GIVEN OUR AGED CARE SERVICES THEIR STAMP OF APPROVAL, WITH SATISFACTION IMPROVING 7 POINTS DURING 2019-20

Residents showed strong confidence in the staff caring for them, with 95 per cent agreeing with the statement ‘staff know what they’re doing’ and 93 per cent agreeing the ‘home is well run’.
The degree of personal attention provided was also rated highly, with 93 per cent of residents responding positively to the statement ‘staff know their care preferences’.
There’s no question that the combination of the virus’ arrival along with the ongoing Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety’s examination of the industry’s shortcomings, made for a tough operating environment for all providers, including St Vincent’s Care Services.
For example, as with the majority of the sector we experienced a significant drop in occupancy resulting in a difficult financial result.
And, as with many other providers, we faced our own compliance challenges as we sought to improve the operations of newly acquired sites and turn around entrenched workplace cultures and practices not compatible with our own.
But despite these difficulties, the year featured many highpoints and noteworthy achievements.
We officially welcomed John Paul Village into the St Vincent’s Care Services family – renamed SVCS Heathcote – taking our portfolio of residential aged care sites to 20 and the number of residents to 1879.

We also grew the number of clients of our ‘in-home’ care service to 1,049.
Caring for people who are experiencing homelessness or insecure housing has been a central part of the St Vincent’s Health Australia story since our organisation began.
In line with that heritage, St Vincent’s Care Services has completed a feasibility study into developing aged care residential services for elderly people experiencing or at risk of homelessness. We have now moved onto Stage 2 of the project which is establishing a business case.
In the same vein, Care Services is also exploring developing specialist disability accommodation services in Sydney and other capital cities.
The coming year will bring a range of challenges – particularly with the final report of the Royal Commission scheduled for early 2021 – but after restructuring and refreshing our leadership group and developing a new Consumer Experience Team, St Vincent’s Care Services is well-placed for a strong recovery.