West Coast DHB slashes home-care – RNZ

By Brendon McMahon, Local Democracy reporter

Some elderly, disabled and frail housebound West Coast residents have had their home-based care services cut for up to three months, apparently due to Covid-19.

Close up hands of senior elderly woman patient suffering from pakinson's desease symptom. Mental health and elderly care concept

Photo: 123RF

Clients of Access and HB home care services – provided under contract to the West Coast District Health Board, Ministry of Health and ACC – have been advised some services are being suspended.

Greymouth woman Sarah Evans contacted the DHB on Wednesday after her housebound elderly mother received a call from the DHB.

“They are saying for three months they are not going to provide any services,” Evans said.

She contacted the DHB herself to verify what was happening and was told it was “a senior management decision”.

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It was devastating for her mother, who received regular help from Home and Community Care Support Services (HCCS), as she could do very little physically herself.

Evans said she knew of others in the community who were “utterly” reliant on having HCCS services in their own home. For many of those without close family living locally or other social support, the withdrawal of assistance now would be devastating.

“I feel really sorry for the oldies because they are so isolated.”

Those with in-home care needs told to organise with family and friends

Home care clients are being urged to contact family members and friends should support workers be unavailable while DHB provided home care support services are suspended.

A letter from all DHBs, the Ministry of Health and ACC has been circulated to clients outlining the “potential impact” to home support services.

They said if Omicron became widespread it was “likely” to create workforce shortages.

Measures had been taken to protect clients and their support workers, including mandatory vaccination and providing PPE. Planning was under way for client support if the number of staff was reduced due to Omicron.

The letter advised that home care organisations would need to prioritise services to remain safe in their home.

“This may mean that some of the support you are currently receiving will be reduced or suspended for a short period of time.”

The onus would be on the various contracted providers to update clients with additional information as needed, “and they will let you know when services might return to normal”.

“You may want to contact family members and/or friends to plan for your support, should a support worker not be available to provide your usual care,” the letter said.

Clients were being advised to call their home care organisation directly.

“Funders and service providers will try to minimise Covid-19’s impact on home care service delivery. However, during this period, you may want to organise family/whānau or friends to temporarily help with your housework or personal care.”

Those who did that may opt out of a home care service for this period.

Services reduction leaves question marks over care

Throughout the pandemic there has been much emphasis on home-based carers and support workers being vaccinated to protect their clients.

But Evans said now it appeared the rise of Omicron overrode the immediate welfare needs of those the services were there to support, including for shopping, cleaning, hygiene and accessing medical services.

“These old people have to go to the supermarket, go to the doctor where they are vulnerable.”

Greymouth resident Marie Breed, in a letter to the editor, said HCCS clients were being informed

“it is due to Covid”.

“This has been done over the phone without consultation or any assessment of the person’s risk factors,” Breed wrote.

“I am aware of one person who is significantly disabled, needing two elbow crutches to mobilise and who is awaiting joint replacement surgery.

This person is unable to safely tend to house work due to being a significant falls risk. I am very aware this person is not alone in this situation.”

Breed questioned the DHB’s duty of care and equity of access to appropriate home support to remain safely in their own homes. It only served to make people feel less valued or supported.

“There is an obvious and significant risk to these people to become a greater risk to the health system but not due to any fault of their own. And then there is the psychological aspect (scrapheap syndrome),” she said.

Responding, DHB general manager Philip Wheble said Covid-19 modelling suggested between 10 and 20 percent of its West Coast staff would be absent due to illness with Omicron now circulating.

Recruitment restrictions compounded the issue and “we have to regularly adapt and flex resources to meet demand”.

Wheble said any changes to the DHB’s Home and Community Support Service (HCSS) were “complex” and could occur for numerous reasons “depending on the individual health needs of each client”.

“For example, non-complex clients often require less support than more complex clients,” he said.

The ongoing shortage of health care professionals, including support workers, had been compounded by the border closures.

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air