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Case study – Preparing for bushfire emergencies

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Case study – Preparing for bushfire emergencies

The 2019–20 Australian bushfires caused extensive damage. The fires destroyed homes, displaced wildlife, and killed 34 people. The disaster zone was widespread across Australia.

The effect on the aged care sector included evacuations and people receiving aged care not being able to return to their homes or residences in areas across New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland.

IRT Aged Care Homes

IRT Aged Care Homes was one of many aged care providers affected by the 2019–20 fires.

IRT Group runs 7 aged care centres in the Shoalhaven and Eurobodalla regions of New South Wales. They provide care for up to 540 residents. They also run 7 retirement villages and provide services to around 1,000 home care customers.

Nia Briguglio, Executive General Manager of IRT Aged Care Centres, explains below:

  • how their residents were affected
  • their emergency management approach
  • some lessons that changed the way they will manage bushfire emergencies in the future.

How did the 2019­–20 bushfires affect IRT services in New South Wales? 

IRT services were affected by:

  • road closures
  • power outages
  • supply shortages
  • interruptions to communications
  • evacuations

IRT staff continued to provide care for our residents during the bushfire crisis. Care management teams showed great leadership. They remained calm under pressure and our frontline staff put our residents care needs before their own, even when some of our staff were losing their own homes to the fires.

On 3 January 2020, the Department of Health told us that IRT Dalmeny needed to be evacuated. The IRT Home Care Head of Operations coordinated the evacuation. They made sure that retirement village residents were taken to evacuation centres and aged care residents were transferred to IRT Moruya Aged Care Centre and a local facility run by another provider. After the evacuation, IRT Home Care Head of Operations and maintenance staff took mattresses and bedding to the evacuation centres so our residents could have a place to rest.

What was involved in your emergency management planning? What worked well?

The high number of care centres, retirement villages and homecare services that were affected was a challenge. 

To address this, we formed a Critical Incident Management team in late December 2019. The team included the CEO, general managers and others from the business. They met each day to keep up with the changing situation. They organised a response team ready to provide support and worked with the government on evacuation procedures. They also organised deliveries through road closures to make sure our centres had:

  • generators and diesel to run them
  • clinical supplies
  • food.

Each centre followed emergency plans and decided how best to support our residents and staff. Frontline teams did their best to keep residents calm while preparing for possible evacuation. Retirement village managers helped their residents pack overnight bags and medications.

Our staff were creative with changing menu options using the food supplies ordered before the emergency. As the crisis unfolded this included catering to residents with no power.

During power outages, staff used headlights while they worked to overcome the issue of having limited lighting.

After losing power at all of our aged care centres, staff uploaded all of our residents’ care summaries from our head office. When our Dalmeny centre was evacuated, these reports made it possible to place residents in the place best to meet their care needs. Staff also sent the care summaries directly to the other provider so they could get ready to care for our residents.

Lastly having the New South Wales Fires Near Me App on all our computers, iPads and mobile phones meant that staff had a way to keep up to date with fires near them.

Lessons learnt – what didn’t go to plan

  • Communication was difficult from some areas so the Critical Incident Management team had little information to work with. 
  • Limited food items for all dietary requirements that could be cooked without power.
  • Not having suitable bags available to pack overnight bags. This sounds simple but when you need to pack essential clothing, incontinence aids and medications it can be harder for staff without the right equipment.

Lessons learnt – what we changed

  • We now have satellite phones in each service. This makes sure communication is possible during an emergency with management, government officials and emergency authorities. We also have a regular testing process for the phones.
  • We bought evacuation bags to store in each resident’s wardrobe for easy access. We also have a list of essential items as part of the emergency management plan.
  • We have an essential dry store food list as part of the emergency management plan. Each centre must always have a 72-hour supply. 
  • We bought portable cook tops for each centre, the number depending on the centre’s size and number of kitchens. 

We made extreme weather a standard agenda item on weekly executive leadership meetings. This makes sure we’re across weather and any items we need.

Wednesday, 13 December 2023 - 2:13pm