Newsroom

The fears of community health and care workers

Community health and care workers talk of their fear of infection  -  for themselves, their vulnerable clients and New Zealand

Over the last few days, Newsroom has written several articles about the fact that thousands of home and community health care workers, who care for elderly, disabled and sick people, have not been provided with basic protective equipment like masks, gowns or even hand sanitiser.

This leaves them at risk of infecting their vulnerable clients with Covid-19, of being infected themselves, or even being the vehicle for spreading the virus widely in the community.

Since writing the stories, Newsroom has been contacted by home and health care workers, by clients and family members, all with the same question for the Government and DHBs: When everyone else is being told not to get closer than two metres to anyone else or risk catching or spreading Covid-19, why are community care workers being expected to perform health and personal care tasks for patients multiple times a day without any personal protective equipment (PPE). 

Here are a handful of those messages:

My father, who is 90, lives home alone.  He is a wonderful man: stubborn, independent, and living with a disability. He can manage on his own with difficulty - and for the past few years has been helped twice a week by visiting caregivers.

Yesterday, I suspended those visits with his agreement. I was alarmed when his provider could not articulate any safety protocol beyond the basic MoH guidelines, and admitted they have NO protective gear.

Instead, I asked that they provide a weekly “shop and drop” for my dad.  No crossing the threshold - just get his groceries and leave them at the front door.  Make sure he responds when they knock - then leave. Right now, this is what he needs most.  

His caregiver is a gem.  But her employer and health officials are dangerously close to giving a coded message that the health of our old/sick people living at home with assistance - and those providing the care - doesn’t really matter.  

Stay on this issue please - and thank you.

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Thank you for writing the article about care workers not having masks and gowns. Please keep pushing this massive problem.

My partner is a care worker. There will be a big chance of her getting covid-19 with over 16 staff helping 31 patients with things like turning and changing diapers. My partner works nights so she has direct contact with all the patients twice each night, with a nurse. It only needs one care worker or nurse to be infected while going shopping, or through contact with their family. and my partner will probably will get it that night. 

It's good to see so many supermarket staff wearing masks. But it seems like the Government has already given up on the old, and on the mostly immigrant caregivers. 

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I am a registered nurse working for hospice in the community. My patients are all immunosuppressed; one of the areas in which I work has high levels of poverty and overcrowding in homes.

My family are arguing with me to leave my job because of the lack of PPE for me as well as for the patients.

However I just can’t leave at this time and let not only my patients down but also the brilliant team of nurses I work with.

Hopefully we will now see some changes to the MOH guidelines and then our management will be compelled to do the right thing by us. 

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I work for a big care agency in the community. My job involves tasks like showering and personal care, but as a support worker I have no PPE gear. Last week we were told it might come in the next couple of days, but we have received nothing so far.

I have spoken to my employer about this, but they don’t know anything either. 

I have had two clients today ask me why haven’t we got something to protect us and them, as I go into at least six peoples homes per day. I have had to tell them: 'Sorry but we don’t have anything yet'.

We have our lives and our families’ lives in our hands, as well as our clients’. I feel let down but I am still out there doing my job for our clients. This is a very worrying time for us all so why aren’t we being looked after?

The supermarket staff have masks, why not support workers?

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As support workers, we are in a prime position to infect our clients. We go from home to home, but we also have our family lives, we go out to do our shopping. I’ve got the responsibility of these people's lives and my own life.

This is the time for the authorities to do the right thing. We need the Ministry of Health to step up and take control and act with authority. We must be supplied with appropriate PPE. 


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My sister is a district nurse in Christchurch. As every other business is warning their staff to social distance themselves from others to reduce the probability of coming into contact with the virus, she is required to enter strangers' houses up to 15 times a day and come right up close to patients. It is like playing Russian roulette with her own health by entering people’s homes where the virus may be. A patient being treated could be unaware they are infected once the wider community transmission begins.

My sister has been instructed to ask the person on arrival at the house how they are feeling and if anyone is self-isolating within the household. But they might not know that there is a risk.   

Nurses have been informed that personal protection equipment (PPE) is available but not every nurse has PPE available to them yet in their vehicles. 

I just wonder if the management of and limited amount of PPE is in response to a limited availability worldwide or due to budgetary constraints. Nurses will always go above and beyond for their patients and this is no exception.  My sister knows it is risky situation she is putting herself and her family in. Not to mention spreading it amongst the most vulnerable community should she become infected and not be aware.  She feels somewhat helpless to do anything about it.  

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