Non-Government Community, Disability and Health Service Providers
Information for Non-Government Community, Disability and Health Service Providers in relation to COVID-19
The following information assists non-government community, disability and health service providers (NGOs), including staff, volunteers and clients, to protect themselves and the community during the COVID-19 crisis.
This page provides resources and materials for NGOs related to COVID-19. Please use these materials and continue to refer to reliable sources of information where needed.
Now more than ever, it is important that you implement standard illness prevention strategies, including:
providing accessible handwashing facilities and/or hand sanitiser (containing at least 60% alcohol)
asking sick employees or volunteers stay at home
performing routine cleaning, especially of frequently touched surfaces and objects.
The ACT Government is committed to working with Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) to meet the needs of Canberra’s most vulnerable people. Financial and regulatory support has been made available. The ACT Government is working with NGOs to deliver a $7 million Community Support Package, with a further $2 million provided to support the not-for-profit sector deliver mental health and additional community support.
ACT Health has released its COVID-19 An ACT Operational Plan for People with Disability, which is a live document that responds to the Australian Government’s Management and Operational Plan for People with Disability. The operational plan highlights the many responses that have already been completed or are underway in partnership with people with disability and service providers, as well as those actions that have not yet commenced. The document will continue to be revised as the pandemic develops.
Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by a new coronavirus.
Provision of community and health support services in the context of COVID-19 presents unique challenges, including the vulnerability of some people accessing services and the inclusion of volunteers in the workforce.
These challenges have caused uncertainty amongst the community, and NGO providers and their clients have needed to rapidly adapt to the evolving situation, while continuing to deliver essential services.
Essential services include:
administration of medication
disability support and respite care
delivery of vital supplies such as food and medications
transport, for example to facilitate nursing or medical care, or to support daily living
social support provided by health and community service providers for an individual’s well-being.
Where practicable, delivery of services should be contactless. The delivery of services through telehealth or contactless delivery should be considered where possible. Where it is not possible, such as provision of nursing care, disability support or personal care, organisations need to assess risks and employ appropriate strategies and plans to ensure people can receive the support they need. It is important to consider infection control procedures and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) to mitigate risks.
It is also recommended that organisations include an organisational risk assessment in their business continuity planning, and that a point of care risk assessment is incorporated into delivery of care. Risk assessments and mitigation strategies, as well as business continuity planning will vary between each organisation.
Preparedness and response planning are the responsibility of each organisation. However, the advice and principles outlined in the sections below may guide and inform the development of organisational plans and procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic.
During COVID-19, anticipate and plan for staffing shortages:
Expect that many employees will be ill (with illness other than COVID-19, and potentially with COVID-19) and will need to be absent from work until well or cleared by ACT Health (if they are have confirmed COVID-19).
Establish working from home arrangements, if this is an option.
Carefully plan for the delivery of essential services, and return to routine working practices as restrictions ease, to minimise risk to service capacity.
The NDIS website has resources available for finding new or backup staff, if required.
Adapting services going forward
COVID-19 will be an ongoing risk into the future. The National COVID-19 Coordination Commission (NCCC) has developed an online planning tool to help business develop a plan to keep their workforce, clients and the community safe as they reopen or increase activities in the weeks and months ahead.
Support workers who are at increased risk of COVID-19
Workers who belong to a population group who are considered vulnerable should work from home, if possible. If they are unable to work from home, organisations should discuss with them how best to manage their risk at work.
People who are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 should not work with people who are in quarantine or isolation for COVID-19, in residential settings where there is a COVID-19 outbreak, or with people who are unwell with respiratory symptoms.
Emergency management in the event of an outbreak of COVID-19 in a residential facility
A checklist has been developed to guide and support providers of shared accommodation in responding if a resident becomes unwell with COVID-19 (a confirmed case).
All shared accommodation providers should prepare a plan for how they would respond if a resident, staff member or visitor to the accommodation tests positive for COVID-19. This checklist can be used by accommodation providers to prepare this plan.
Specific checklists have been developed for disability supported accommodation, alcohol and other drug respite and specialist homelessness services. If your organisation would like a checklist for one of these settings, this can be sought through the Office for Disability, Alcohol and Other Drug Policy Unit, ACT Health, or Housing ACT.
Facilities should follow their emergency management plan or system if they have one. This may be incorporated into an organisation’s updated business continuity plan or may be a separate complementary document. Additional information can be found in the ACT Guidance for Shared Accommodation.
COVID-19 Response for Providers of Disability Supported Accommodation
All disability supported accommodation providers need to prepare a plan for how they would respond if a resident, staff member or visitor to the accommodation tests positive for COVID-19.
This checklist can be used by accommodation providers to prepare this plan. This checklist is to be used in conjunction with to the advice in the Guidance to Shared Accommodation.
Pandemic planning and managing risk
The ACT Government recommends that community, disability and health service providers in the ACT develop pandemic plans that are proportionate, scalable and adaptable.
Be prepared. Appoint a lead person (or team representing all internal stakeholders in larger organisations) empowered and authorised explicitly by board/executive management to lead and update pandemic response planning and communication with internal and external stakeholders.
Be informed. Keep up to date with reputable information for situational awareness. Resources can be found on the ACT COVID-19 and Australian Department of Health websites for pandemic preparedness resources.
Communicate. Keep staff and clients informed. Describe what actions the organisation is taking to protect them. This includes answering questions and explaining what staff can do to protect themselves and their clients. Provide educational resources in plain language and translated (if relevant). Translated resources are available on the ACT Health and Department of Health websites.
Some of the considerations for organisational pandemic response planning include:
1. Prevent spread of infections
Prominently display posters for hand and respiratory hygiene at all entrances, bathrooms and common areas, where applicable. Resources are available from the ACT Health and Australian Government Department of Health websites.
Inform staff to stay home if they feel unwell and remain at home until their symptoms resolve.
Ensure sick leave policies allow staff to stay home if they have symptoms of a respiratory infection.
Offer the influenza vaccination to staff, if feasible.
The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care has developed online e-learning modules on the principles of infection control in Australian healthcare and community settings.
Ensure appropriate hand cleaning facilities, such as running water, soap, paper towels and waste baskets, or hand sanitiser (containing at least 60% alcohol) are readily available to staff.
It’s important that bathrooms and food preparation areas have access to soap-based hand washing facilities - hand sanitiser is not an appropriate alternative.
Some staff will be undertaking home visits, and in these circumstances, they should have hand sanitiser available. If the service provider has offices, a clinic or accommodation, they should ensure that appropriate hand cleaning facilities are available at all:
visitor entries and exits
visitation rooms and common areas
food preparation and dining areas.
If supplies cannot be sourced through regular channels, alcohol-based hand sanitiser can be accessed through ACT Emergency Services Agency by emailing ESAhandsanitiser@act.gov.au
Maintain adequate supplies of hand soap and paper towels, alcohol-based hand sanitiser, tissues, general cleaning agents, disinfectant spray or wipes and personal protective equipment such as gloves and masks. If these stocks cannot be sourced, please follow the advice in the personal protective equipment (PPE) section below.
Regularly clean frequently touched surfaces in common areas (e.g. door handles and light switches), particularly communal kitchens. More information on cleaning can be found on the Safe Work Australia website. The WorkSafe cleaning checklist can assist with implementing health and hygiene measures.
Cutlery, dishes, utensils, and drinking glasses must not be shared and should be cleaned thoroughly with detergent and hot water, or in the dishwasher, after use.
If the weather allows, make sure shared spaces have good airflow by opening a window or using air conditioning.
Detailed instructions for cleaning if a person’s place of residence if they have suspected or confirmed COVID-19 can be found in the Guidance for Shared Accommodation.
If transporting a person for the purpose of providing an essential service, the following steps should be undertaken:
perform hand hygiene when entering and exiting the vehicle
keep tissues and alcohol-based hand sanitiser in the car to facilitate hand and respiratory hygiene
passengers should sit in the back seat, if possible, to increase physical distancing
clean frequently touched surfaces in the vehicle regularly, such as handles, rear view mirrors, the steering wheel, the handbrake and the gear stick
if the person is unwell, request that a surgical mask be worn while travelling, if possible, and
if the person is severely unwell, call 000.
2. Rapid detection and response
Instruct staff and clients to monitor for and report symptoms to the appropriate personnel at the first signs of illness. If staff or a client feels unwell, they should be isolated or go home immediately, and contact their GP for assessment and care. Please check the ACT website about symptoms and testing criteria for COVID-19 regularly.
Staff and clients should be instructed on who to notify immediately, if they are unwell.
Call ahead before appointments to ensure that the client is well or that appropriate precautions can be undertaken. Questions that should be asked are provided in the next section, Managing Risk.
If appropriate for the setting, provide regular welfare checks to clients to help identify the first signs of illness or any additional needs as a result of COVID-19.
3. Supporting staff
Employers have responsibilities in relation to the mental wellbeing of staff.Considering both the physical health and mental health impacts of COVID-19 for your workers will be an important component of planning for the pandemic.
Controlling risk in the context of COVID-19 involves firstly identifying risks of the virus spreading and then using appropriate strategies to address these risks. This process is called a point of care risk assessment and should be done before every client interaction.
Organisations should conduct training with their staff to familiarise them with the use of point of care risk assessment and develop strategies to manage anticipated risks.
If appropriate, providers should call ahead to conduct the risk assessment before providing a service.
A point of care risk assessment will help to determine the correct procedures and if personal protective equipment (PPE) is required to protect the health of the worker and the client. The assessment should implement the following strategies (in order) to reduce risk of exposure to COVID-19:
Elimination and substitution - deferral of non-essential services or substitution with contactless service provision.
Administrative control measures – include measures to reduce the risk of transmission through policies, procedures, training and education. Examples could include asking basic screening questions (are you feeling well today?), signage, education and access to hand hygiene facilities.
Engineering controls -finding ways to reduce physical contact. Examples include contactless delivery of vital supplies, increasing the width of a bench or table between a service provider and client so that they maintain physical distancing (>1.5m apart), or placing a perspex screen in front of the service provider.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) - PPE should be used in addition to the measures above, when required, to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Before visiting a client at their residence or in another setting, the provider should ask the client or their caregiver the following questions:
Are you or anyone else in your household unwell?
Fever, sore throat, cough, and shortness of breath are common symptoms of COVID-19, but it is now recognised that some people may present with less common symptoms. If the client reports any other new symptom the provider could check if they are consistent with COVID-19 by checking the complete list of symptoms on the ACT website.
Are you or anyone in your household in quarantine or isolation at home because you have been in contact with someone who has COVID-19, you are suspected of having COVID-19 or you have been confirmed to have COVID-19?
Please note, individuals who have travelled overseas in the past 14 days are also required to be in quarantine. At the current time, returned travellers are completing government mandated hotel quarantine, unless they have a specific exemption from the Chief Health Officer. Due to the current arrangements, it would be very unlikely for an NGO to be providing services in the ACT to a person in quarantine at home due to travel overseas in the past 14 days.
Recommended steps for conducting a point of care risk assessment
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Appropriate use PPE
Assessing whether PPE is required forms part of a point of care risk assessment. You can use the infographics below to determine what PPE is required.
In some circumstances, a point of care risk assessment may indicate that use of PPE is not required, however it may still be requested by the person receiving services. In these instances, providers should try to have an open discussion with the client about their concerns and reassure them that the recommended infection control procedures are being followed.
If the person receiving services still prefers PPE to be worn, every effort should be made to respect their wishes, and providers should consider individual circumstances and PPE stock levels. If working with someone with an intellectual or cognitive disability these conversations should be initiated by support staff and people familiar with the communication and information processing needs of the client. Clients should be made aware of their rights to advocacy and agency. If they feel their voice is not being heard, they can contact the national disability abuse and neglect hotline on 1800 880 052 or a local advocacy agency for assistance.
Your organisation may have its own standard operating procedure for PPE; if it does, refer to this document. If you haven’t worn PPE before, make sure you receive training in how to use it and have a ‘buddy’ who is familiar with PPE and can check you putting it on and removing it.
Before putting on PPE, if it is required, review this instructional video about how to put on PPE and how to remove it. Removing PPE correctly is extremely important, as taking it off incorrectly can result in contamination and an infection risk. ACT Health has developed pocket sized z-cards with instructions for putting on and removing PPE. These can be accessed at no cost by sending a request to CSDPPE@act.gov.au.
ACT Health recommends that if use of a mask in the community setting is indicated, that a surgical mask be used. Surgical masks should be disposed of after use. If the mask becomes damp or soiled during wearing, it should be disposed of appropriately and replaced.
ACT Health does not recommend NGO providers or the general public wear N95 masks to protect themselves from COVID-19. These masks are used to prevent airborne (aerosol) transmission of infectious diseases. COVID-19 is spread through droplets. Droplets are formed from coughing, sneezing, or coming into contact with mucus or saliva.
The use of N95 masks to protect against COVID-19 is recommended in some clinical settings, particularly when performing procedures that may generate aerosols, such as intubation.
Examples of PPE use when providing essential services
Steps for PPE use
Steps to remove PPE
Access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
The ACT Government acknowledges the significant impact global supply shortages of PPE have had on service delivery.
PPE includes the following items:
Non-sterile nitrile protective gloves
Hand sanitiser solution
Requests for PPE can be submitted through completion of an online request form on the ACT COVID-19 website.
Due to supply limitations, requests for PPE will be prioritised based on current advice from the Office of the Chief Health Officer, ACT Health and the demonstrated need for PPE as outlined through the online request.
Information for people with a disability, carers and Disability Support providers including NDIS providers and self-managing participants who use PPE can be found on the Community Services Directorate website.
Any questions or enquiries may be sent to the Community Services Directorate at CSDPPE@act.gov.au.
People who can access PPE through the National Medical Stockpile are encouraged to do so.
Management and care of people who are in isolation or quarantine at home
The Communicable Disease Control (CDC) Section at ACT Health is screening people who have COVID-19 and their contacts to determine if they are carers, as well as assessing their health and community support needs. If a potential concern is identified, these people are assessed and linked to necessary services or supports.
Non-essential services should be cancelled or deferred for individuals:
who are in isolation awaiting a COVID-19 test result;
who are in quarantine because they have been in contact with a confirmed COVID 19 case or have travelled overseas in the past 14 days;
who are in isolation because they are a confirmed COVID-19 case.
Providers should continue to deliver essential services, employing the necessary precautions, as detailed.
Essential services are outlined in the General information section above. If it is appropriate, arrange for contactless delivery of vital supplies, such as medical supplies or food. For example, packages or supplies could be left at the front door. If contact is required, for example when providing nursing support, please consult the PPE section above.
Detailed instructions for cleaning if a person’s place of residence if they have suspected or confirmed COVID-19 can be found in the Guide for Shared Accommodation.
If a client in quarantine or isolation becomes unwell, their regular health care provider (GP) should be alerted.
If the client has serious symptoms, call triple zero (000) and notify the operator that the client id in quarantine or isolation.