Good afternoon all,
Please find the following information providing staff with an update on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since March 2021, Mercy Connect has consistently, and transparently, supported all of our eligible staff and participants to receive their COVID-19 vaccinations.
This has included: regular internal communications regarding COVID-19 vaccinations; provision of dedicated vaccination hubs at our various workplaces (both frontline and administration); and, one-to-one discussions between staff, participants (including families / guardians) to assist with decision making and achieving informed consent.
As such, I was very pleased, and encouraged, by the positive response rate and results we received from the recent COVID-19 Vaccination Staff Survey, which included:
- 111 survey responses were received (43% of Mercy Connect staff).
- 92% of respondents felt safe coming to work based on current COVID-19 infection control measures already in place.
- 74% of respondents work directly with participants.
- 80% of respondents had already received one, both or were booked in to receive their COVID-19 vaccination(s).
- 3% of respondents had not booked their vaccination but were planning to.
- 6% of respondents were not willing to receive a COVID-19 vaccination due to pre-existing health reasons.
- 6% of respondents require further information before deciding to receive the COVID-19 vaccination(s).
- 2% of respondents were waiting for an alternate COVID-19 vaccine.
- 3% of respondents were not willing to get a vaccination.
For further details on the survey results, please click here:
For those who have already received one, or both, of their COVID-19 vaccination shots, the Mercy Connect Board / Executive Team are extremely thankful, and appreciative, of your clear commitment to the health and safety of our Mercy Connect family, and the wider community.
To further assist those staff who remain unvaccinated (including anyone who might have a pre-existing health condition), Mercy Connect is now introducing the following additional supports:
- Mercy Connect will reimburse the cost of any General Practitioner / medical appointments (i.e. up to a total cost of $75) for any unvaccinated staff to obtain medical advice needed to either receive a vaccination, or an exemption from doing so.
- Please note that some medical appointments will already be covered by Medicare. In this case, payment would not be provided by Mercy Connect.
- Mercy Connect will provide special paid leave (up to one (1) day / shift) for any unvaccinated staff who subsequently experiences illness after their COVID-19 vaccination.
- Mercy Connect will cover full-time unvaccinated employees’ time off work (without any loss of pay) if the General Practitioner / medical appointment to have the COVID-19 vaccination is required during work hours.
- Part-time and casual unvaccinated employees are encouraged to receive their COVID-19 vaccination outside of work hours.
Also, any staff who have already sought medical advice and incurred out-of-pocket expenses from their General Practitioner / medical appointment (i.e. up to a total cost of $75), and / or took Personal Leave due to illness after their COVID-19 vaccination (special paid leave of up to one (1) day / shift) may speak with the People and Culture Team to receive these supports retrospectively if supporting documentation is provided.
It is worth also noting that our dedicated Work, Health and Safety (WHS) Committee (with membership consisting of Assistant Team Leaders) have recently conducted comprehensive risk assessments of the majority of our Mercy Connect workplaces (both frontline and administration), with their key findings including:
- 82% of respondents said that the nature of the work undertaken in their workplace, increases the risk of workers being exposed to COVID-19.
- 32% said that they have vulnerable workers at their place of work; a further 32% said that they were unsure if they do.
- 50% indicated that there is an increased risk to violence in the workplace due to ongoing COVID-19 restrictions. This is due to participants feeling stressed as they are restricted from visitors and their usual routines; as well as staff feeling stressed and / or tired due to the latest Public Health Orders.
- All responses indicated that staff are receiving the information and support they need from Mercy Connect.
Importantly, through both the COVID-19 Vaccination Staff Survey and WHS Committee risk assessments, we have also received a range of similarly themed questions from staff.
To further assist our staff during this time, Jessie Arney (Executive Leader – People and Communications) and I will be hosting virtual Town Hall meetings next week, where we will provide our responses to the Frequently Asked Questions we have received to date.
All staff are invited to attend either of the available sessions (checked against rosters to see the best time (s) for most staff to attend), and I look forward to seeing as many online as possible.
Two sessions will be held on Tuesday 14 September at 9:15am and 3.30pm. Please RSVP with your preferred session time to Rosie Busuttil firstname.lastname@example.org who will send you a link to the meeting.
As the state and national restrictions start to ease across Australia, it is becoming increasingly likely that all disability workers / staff in contact with people with disability will soon be required to have their COVID-19 vaccinations as a condition of work. This mandate may come from either a legislated Public Health Order, or from a ‘lawful and reasonable direction’ provided by an employer, like Mercy Connect.
We all share a duty of care to support our participants (and their families / guardians) by providing a safe and healthy environment. I am concerned that with the easing of restrictions, the highly-infectious Delta strain of COVID-19 will rapidly pass through our regional communities, and sadly, it will be the most vulnerable that are impacted; our participants and staff with underlying health conditions. Nonetheless, I remain confident that our Mercy Connect staff do recognise the protection that vaccinations provide them, and those around them, as was reflected in the previously mentioned COVID-19 Vaccination Staff Survey results. I again, strongly encourage all staff (and participants) who are eligible to receive their COVID-19 vaccination (or seek a medical exemption) to do so, as soon as possible.
Easing of NSW / Victorian COVID-19 Lock-down Restrictions
Following this week’s NSW / Victorian Government announcements relating to the easing of pandemic restrictions, particularly within regional areas, I would like to provide everyone within our Mercy Connect family with the following updates to our programs and services:
- In line with the ongoing ‘stay at home’ orders, there will be no change to the existing Accommodation / Day Program / Central West Office (Illamatta Way) lock-down restrictions, until further notice.
Cowra, Wagga Wagga, and Albury Wodonga
- In line with the easing of regional restrictions within various LGAs, please be aware of the following changes / updates:
- Mercy Connect owned / managed homes remain closed to the public.
- This includes, but is not limited to, family members / carers, external contractors and suppliers. Exceptions to this directive will be at the sole discretion of the CEO Office and Executive Leader – Clinical Services.
- Participant family / guardians (who sign COVID-19 free declaration and have not recently visited any declared COVID-19 hotspots) may visit with participants outside of their shared / group home.
- Participants are still not permitted to have overnight visits at family / guardian homes, until further notice.
- Mercy Connect owned / managed homes remain closed to the public.
- Day Programs:
- We are currently monitoring both the “Disability service providers / Advice to residential disability care facilities (RDCF)” sections of the NSW Health website (https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/covid-19/Pages/disability-latest-advice.aspx and https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/covid-19/Pages/disability-support.aspx), and have based the following directions on the current, available advice (last updated 5 September 2021).
- Mercy Connect’s normal, structured Day Program services will likely recommence from 20 September 2021, with Day Program activities only to be offered within Mercy Connect owned / operated homes until that date.
- However, recommencement of Day Program services will be in line with COVID-19 restrictions (including any group size / space limitations) and may require different cohorts of participants to be supported separately i.e. those living in shared / group homes; those living separately and not in shared / group homes.
- Participants are still not permitted to attend any external Day Program facilities / activities until further notice (in line with the aforementioned NSW Health advice).
- Residents from the same Mercy Connect owned / operated homes may visit outdoor locations with one (or more) Mercy Connect staff member(s).
- Corporate Office (Albury)
- Albury (St John’s / Thurgoona) office remain closed to the public. This includes, but is not limited to, participants, family members / carers, external contractors and suppliers. Exceptions to this directive will be at the sole discretion of the CEO Office. Until further notice, all external approved visitors must complete the Mercy Connect ‘COVID-19 Declaration’ form prior to entering our premises. All completed forms must be provided to Debbie White at email@example.com
- Corporate Office staff are permitted to attend external meetings (as required, and in line with COVID-19 safe requirements), however, they are still strongly encouraged to utilise video / phone conferencing for such purposes, wherever possible.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
A reminder, that all staff (and any approved external visitors) are required to wear appropriate PPE at all times when with participants.
You must wear a face mask:
- When you are outside in a public place including;
- on a street or at a park.
- queuing outside a cafe or shop to collect take away food or drink.
- walking on a street near shop fronts.
- In all indoor areas of non-residential premises, including workplaces
- When working in an outdoor area.
You may only remove your mask for the following reasons:
- Eating or drinking.
- Working alone in an office (until another person enters).
- You have documented evidence of a medical exemption to not wear a mask.
Please note that reusable / cloth masks (including the recently available ‘Mercy Connect’ branded mask) can be worn (subject to regular cleaning and washing) for outside activities; however, disposable surgical masks must be worn at all other times when with participants.
All staff (and approved external visitors) must continue checking-in using the Service NSW QR code, which is located at all Mercy Connect locations.
- These simple steps can help to protect yourself and the community.
- Clean your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing and sneezing or use your elbow, not your hands.
- Avoid close contact with people unwell with cold or flu-like symptoms, and stay home if you have symptoms. https://www.nsw.gov.au/covid-19/health-and-wellbeing/symptoms-and-testing
- Avoid touching your face and avoid shaking hands with others.
- Try to maintain a distance of 1.5 metres from others and avoid crowded places.
Remember, when washing your hands, all you need is water and soap, body wash or shampoo. It doesn’t need to be expensive, or ‘antibacterial’. The key to handwashing is to wash often and wash well, for at least 20 seconds.
I again encourage anyone who may need support or help to access our dedicated employee assistance program AccessEAP on 1800 81 87 28 and make use of the links outlined below.
Whilst it is encouraging that our regional locations are starting to reopen, the risk of COVID-19 infection still remains. As such, I kindly remind everyone within the Mercy Connect family to continue to follow the rules and regulations, which are in place for the safety of participants, staff and our wider community.
Together we grow.
Chief Executive Officer