The University of Melbourne
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Managing COVID-19 outbreaks in disability residential settings: Lessons from Victoria's second wave of COVID-19

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online resource
posted on 2021-07-22, 03:05 authored by ANNE KAVANAGHANNE KAVANAGH, HELEN DICKINSON, Alexandra DevineAlexandra Devine, Stefanie DimovStefanie Dimov, Marie HuskaMarie Huska

This report is a summary of interviews with senior managers, team leaders and disability support workers from disability residential homes, during Victoria's second wave of COVID-19 between June and October 2020.

Disability residential settings pose unique risks for the acquisition and transmission of SARS-CoV-2 because people with disability living in those settings are in contact with multiple workers and implementing optimal infection control may be difficult. Some residents may also have underlying health conditions, which place them at greater risk of serious disease or death if they are infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease. Despite the recognised risks of outbreaks in disability residential settings early in the pandemic, we observed outbreaks in over 50 disability group homes in Victoria’s second wave.

Key findings

Governments lacked understanding of the needs of people with disability and staff working and living in residential settings

Governments often responded late, and their responses reflected their lack of understanding of these settings

There was a lack of coordination between Commonwealth and State and Territory governments and agencies creating challenges for services in how to respond to the rapidly evolving pandemic

In the absence of leadership from government, services developed their own pandemic response plans

Access to information and training was challenging, placed pressure on staff and took considerable time and resources with some providers paying for specialist infection control advice and support

While online training was available, interviewees emphasised the importance of practical hands-on training to consolidate learning

Managers and TLs reported that in some cases, workers lacked confidence or were not prepared to work in COVID positive settings, sometimes because they thought other workers were not complying with COVID-safe practices

Access to PPE was difficult even when it was possible to claim through participants’ plans, with services and staff purchasing their own

Some services reported doing their own contact tracing when COVID-19 cases occurred because there were considerable delays in the DHHS Victoria contacting them

TLs and DSWs were responsible for communicating with residents, sometimes developing their own resources with the support of therapists

Communications within organisations was challenging with TLs feeling the responsibility for communications fell to them; particular difficulties were encountered with casual and agency staff

COVID-19 resulted in additional expenditure by services and extra hours by staff in order to provide information and training and PPE

We also detail the impact of COVID-19 on the health and wellbeing of residents, staff and families.

We make a number of recommendations to better protect people with disability living in residential settings and the workers that support them. These are summarised in the Executive Summary of the report (you can download on the right hand side).

For related research on COVID-19 and the Disability Support Workforce, go to:


NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Disability and Health (CRE-DH)