A Simple Plan – and a Request to Support an Australian Icon

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14 June 2020

At the start of May 2020, I proposed a way in which the (residential) aged care sector might reconsider its apparent very widespread lockdown of facilities and prevention of family members visiting with loved ones in care.  Various alternates of “window visits” etc had been quite successfully trialled by some providers, but they fail, for example, where a residential care facility is in a multi storey complex, with all residential living contained at above ground floor level.

There is no doubt that aged care providers have been caught in a bind with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Can they have visitors at all, or on a very strict basis?  What is the best guidance?  Hospitals have become focused on well controlled prevention strategies – so much so that emergency department traffic has significantly slowed during this pandemic, and only now beginning to return to normal frenetic activity.

Both in hospitals, and in longer term care settings the notion of visits – human touch – in these pandemic times has been a much debated phenomenon.  As a species, humanity craves touch contact with those dear to us – particularly when we are ill and so frail that we are facing death, no matter how imminent.  This certainly affects the older person in care, as well as family and friends who wish to provide the touch of comfort as much as the words of caring love, concern, and, in a final sense, farewell to this life.

For a short time, the opportunity to do that has been torn from our grasp through circumstances beyond our control.  But not all the circumstances have been uncontrollable.  Granted, we are not yet absolutely able to say we have controlled the impact and effect of this pandemic.  Given that we have had three other similar diseases over the past twenty years – SARS, MERS, Swine Flu – it behooves all providers to have a pandemic plan in their risk management mitigation and response strategy.  Potentially, we are likely to see more such infectious disease outbreaks in years to come.

But none of these diseases should prevent our human response to loved ones in care, or otherwise approaching death.  This driver of human emotion requires a response – touch and words of love and affirmation.  They are good for us all as we grieve and live with loss.  To not be able to express them may well be damaging to us as much as it is to the person who is coming to the end of their life.

Indeed, I wonder if we might see damages claims for some form of post-traumatic stress against providers who have not permitted family members to attend to their loved ones, who have subsequently passed during these COVID times.  We need to work out a softer, kinder, more responsive balance of the need for high touch versus the precautionary high tech response to disease.

The residential aged care sector has recently experienced the tragic outcomes from the unwitting spread of COVID-19.  So, what is the best thing to do … ?

Kotter’s Eight Stage Process of Creating a Major Change as detailed in Leading Change (1996) and later works is helpful in this scenario.  The eight steps can be summarised as follows:

  1. Articulate Urgency;
  2. Creating the Guiding Coalition;
  3. Determine a Vision and Strategy;
  4. Articulate the Change Vision;
  5. Empowering Individuals and Teams;
  6. Quick Wins;
  7. Consolidation of Change; and
  8. Sticking the Change

If you would like to read my proposition is to the aged care sector – all of it – federal and State governments, regulators, providers, and families, with respect to a VERY topical matter at the moment being permitting visitors to aged care facilities in times of pandemic lockdown, please contact using my Contact Wayne details on this website.

Things might now be very different if a such a simple model had already been discussed – say about three months ago when the first outbreak of COVID-19 occurred in a nursing home in Australia, or even better around 21-22 January 2020 when the first societal closures in China were announced.  Where was the pandemic planning/business continuity planning for aged care services in Australia at that time?

In some instances, the movement of visitors in and out of residential aged care services already needs to be restricted, for example, around influenza A or a norovirus outbreak.  Aged care providers are familiar with these requirements.  But at no time during even those disease events has there been, to my knowledge at least, an embargo on well planned and managed visits by family where this form of touch and solace is required.

We can all do better than what we have experienced during the first half of 2020.

Nice chatting

Wayne

And by the way, an unusual request …

A young friend – Jason Chatfield, who has created many drawings for me on this website – is the writer/drawer of the Ginger Meggs cartoon series.  Jason grew up in Perth.  He was gifted the Ginger Meggs cartooning role several years ago and Ginger Meggs remains a uniquely iconic Australian comic strip.  Excepting for change in newspaper titles, the Sun Herald newspaper based in Sydney has been publishing Ginger Meggs for almost 100 years.  Just one year short of this amazing Australian milestone, they are pulling the plug on Ginger Meggs.  These days Jason lives in New York City and he continues to draw this amazing ageless cartoon character, from whom every Aussie has inherited just a bit of Aussie cultural DNA.  It will be more than a shame on us all if we allow such craft to be lost to the Australian public and media space.

In Jason’s own words he has asked “Hi, Meggsie fans. I’d appreciate you dropping an email to letters@smh.com.au to let them know what you think of them dropping an Aussie icon, Ginger Meggs from the Sun Herald today, a year shy of his 100th birthday.

Let’s save Ginger Meggs and keep the pressure on the Sun Herald to keep the publishing going.

#PencilActivism I say!

You can show your support of Jason Chatfield via @GingerMeggs1921 by sharing your concerns with the Sun Herald via letters@smh.com.au and using the hashtag #SunHerald in any social media post.  Oh, and please can you use your own networks to add to this call to action.

We really cannot afford to lose this. Thank you all so much for your support.

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