Hip hip, HRAR! Building connections during the pandemic and beyond

24 March 2021

A selfie of two people wearing masks as they walk along a residential street.

Since September 2020, healthAbility staff have been involved in the High Risk Accommodation Response (HRAR) Program, delivering support and COVID-19 prevention and planning activities to residents living in high-risk housing.

‘High risk’ accommodation refers to high-density buildings with shared facilities, and residents who may experience increased risks associated with contracting COVID-19.

With the program receiving funding to operate until the end of June 2021, HRAR is continuing to monitor properties and support COVID safety. The program is also focused on building connections with residents and linking them with services and supports to help improve their overall physical and mental wellbeing.

In partnership with Access Health and Community, we have worked across the council areas of Whitehorse, Manningham and Boroondara as part of the Inner East Catchment HRAR program to support people who live in a variety of settings, including rooming houses, caravan parks, community housing and low-rise public housing.

The initial stage of the program was focused on COVID-19 prevention, and preparing residents and properties for potential outbreaks.

This often involved performing a risk assessment of properties to determine if there were shared facilities such as kitchens and bathrooms, and any other factors that may increase the risk of COVID-19 or affect residents’ health. Residents were also provided with free care packs that included items like sanitiser, masks and soap, and they were offered education about handwashing, cleaning techniques, and COVID safe practices.

According to Anna Gordon, healthAbility's Partnerships Development Manager, the program has been important not only in reducing the spread of COVID-19, but also in making residents aware of the range of supports and services that are available to them.

“It’s really important to be able to connect with people in precarious housing settings, not just from a COVID-19 prevention perspective, but also to make people aware of services available to them, such as My Aged Care and NDIS.

“Often at-risk people aren’t connected with daily news or government information and therefore may not understand the implications of emerging risks or exposure sites. The HRAR program has been really good for people who otherwise may not pick up the phone, who might be uncertain about where or how to seek help.”

As the program progresses, Anna believes there will be range of ongoing benefits for residents, even beyond the pandemic.

“For residents, they will have a better understanding of services that are available, and know that they can get support for a range of things, not only in relation to their health, but for other areas such as their housing and social isolation.

“Some people have quite complex needs, and know they need help, but might not know how to access help, who to contact, or that help is even available. For example, we’ve had residents that need help with getting physiotherapy, and we’ve referred them to our gym. We’ve also seen older men that have been feeling a bit lonely and isolated, and put them in touch with our Men’s Shed.

“Being able to get past that first hurdle, to actually make the call for them and connect people to help they need, has probably been one of the biggest benefits of the whole program.”

Over the coming months, HRAR will concentrate its work on a range of key areas, including communicating and engaging with the community and key stakeholders, continuing to support COVID safety, and actively linking residents with a broad range of services and supports to help them address any immediate or ongoing issues.

“Deeper connection with residents is a key aim of the balance of the program,” explains Anna.

“This means going back to follow up with people we have previously visited to find out how we can help them further. It might involve connecting them to social groups, services, activities, or even volunteering opportunities.

“At the end of the day, it all comes back to helping people to live more independent and longer lives.”

The HRAR Program is funded by the Victorian Department of Health.

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