There’s no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we live. Whether it’s simply dropping into the bank or visiting your favourite restaurant, restrictions have meant many businesses need to close or drastically change their services in order to keep both their staff and customers safe.
Essential services like the disability support industry haven’t been hit quite as hard compared to other industries like hospitality or tourism, but the changes are still significant and noticeable for everyone involved.
Carers must now follow strict safety guidelines, providers have been forced to cancel many group-based supports or even close some offices entirely, and customers are now unable to access supports as they used to.
In this article, we want to highlight both the upsides and downsides of the COVID-19 restrictions, and discuss how breakthru is working to improve our services.
The Positive Changes
A focus on the safety and wellbeing of customers has always been the absolute priority here at breakthru. As steadfast optimists, we believe there have been some notable upsides to the recent restrictions which are highlighted below.
Heightened focus on customer safety and wellbeing
All providers are required to take both customer and staff safety seriously by a variety of government departments and governing bodies, but in the wake of a global pandemic, these requirements quickly became outdated. Providers were forced to navigate uncharted territory and find their own way to safely support both employees and customers.
breakthru, alongside many other providers, did this in a number of ways. Quickly rolling out checklists to ensure both staff and customers are feeling well was a quick first step. Calling ahead before all face to face appointments was another control put into place to ensure we could stop the spread of COVID-19 and keep our customers safe.
Flexible working arrangements
Alongside many businesses across the country, breakthru quickly implemented a work from home policy and rolled it out across all of our locations in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. This enabled staff to work remotely, and provided the flexibility to assist customers on a case by case basis.
Introduction of new online and remote support services
Many providers have also been working hard to transition their services to a reliable online model to ensure customers are adequately supported.
With safe new online systems in place, many customers have found that they feel more supported now that they can access services how they want, when they want, from the comfort of their own home. The implementation of our telehealth system has enabled us to support more people in remote areas when they may not be able to otherwise access supports.
Increase financial supports for people with disability
The introduction of both Jobseeker and Jobkeeper payment schemes has meant people with disability now have access to even more supports options when it comes to finances. The Economic Support Payments of $750 have also been made available to anyone receiving an eligible payment, such as the Disability Support Pension (DSP) or Carer’s Payment, which has also provided some much-needed financial relief.
The Negative Changes
As much as we like to think every cloud has a silver lining, there are some very obvious downsides to the Coronavirus pandemic and the restrictions placed on our society as a result.
People with disability are an at-risk cohort
COVID-19 is a highly contagious illness that is particularly fatal for people with pre-existing health conditions. This means many people with disability across Australia are more vulnerable than ever before, and it’s up to all of us to work together in order to protect each other.
The restrictions have also caused increased anxiety for all Australians, and even more so for people with disability and the providers/carers that support them. Increased dependence on community mental health support services very clearly indicates that the stress caused by COVID-19 is a serious issue that must be addressed.
Many people with disability feel isolated and neglected
As indicated by a recent article published by ABC, many people with disability feel isolated and neglected. The changes disability service providers have been forced to make has resulted in some customers being unable to access the supports they need in a manner they’re comfortable with.
While many providers try the best they can to create a work-around to keep all customers happy, they can’t ignore the strict legal and ethical obligations they have to keep both customers and employees safe at all times.
Organisations like the NDS have since responded to these issues to shed light on some of the struggles the industry is experiencing, where they requested additional support and understanding from both the Government and the community.
Financial supports may not be enough
With only 10% of people with disability receiving support through the NDIS, this leaves a further 90% of individuals – 50% of which are living on or close to the poverty line – without adequate financial support in this time of crisis. Organisations like breakthru and advocacy groups like PWD are lobbying to have these supports increased.
How breakthru is addressing these concerns
There are a number of new services, processes and procedures breakthru have put in place to protect both our employees and customers during these trying times. Coupled with daily meetings by our COVID-19 task force, we developed some of the following changes.
Roll out of online telehealth services and remote servicing model
As soon as restrictions came into full effect, breakthru quickly moved to a more flexible service model. To ensure customers and employees were kept safe, all staff were directed to work from home as much as possible. Group supports and any non-essential face to face supports were also suspended until further notice.
The development of our online resources, including breakthru programs like Thrive, have helped many of our customers continue to stay connected and supported despite these changes, with many even preferring these new options
Staff training and PPE
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented many challenges. In order to meet these challenges and solve the problems they pose, it is vital to begin with a pro-active, well planned approach.
As soon as the pandemic became apparent, breakthru implemented its crisis response plan. As part of this plan, we quickly arranged organisation-wide training for all staff to ensure safe work practices and new policies and procedures were being followed to keep everyone safe.
While access to the national stockpile of PPE was delayed for almost all disability service providers, breakthru staff came together and procured additional resources through their network of family and friends to ensure our locations were well stocked.
Case-by-case assessment of customer supports
breakthru have taken steps to ensure all customers are well supported during the COVID-19 crisis. We’ve done this by conducting case-by-case assessments of all our customers, asking questions and checking in to ensure they’re getting the supports they need in a safe and reliable manner.
Where we’re unable to provide services like group supports, we’ve arranged one on one visits from support workers coupled with group video calls to allow our customers to stay connected with their social circles, as seen with our customer Cheryl.
There are many supports available to disadvantaged people or people with disability. From small locally owned restaurants running ‘plate it forward’ initiatives to larger economic support schemes from the Australian Government, there’s sure to be something you can access.
If you have questions or concerns, or you simply need some support, please reach out to breakthru so we can listen to your concerns and point you in the right direction.
If you’re in need of mental health supports, it may be a good idea to access some of the resources below
For media enquiries about breakthru and our response to Coronavirus, please email email@example.com
After growing up with his younger sister Katey (who was born with Down Syndrome), Josh has witnessed first hand the barriers and misconceptions placed around people with disability. As part of the breakthru team, Josh hopes to assist people just like Katey to find the information or supports they need to live their best life.