A woman pictured from behind staring out a window. She is alone.

Being diagnosed with COVID-19 and having to isolate can be a daunting and stressful experience, particularly for people who may not have a network of close friends or family nearby to ask for help.

In September last year, five staff from Carrington Health and healthAbility joined the COVID Care Response program to support the health and wellbeing of people in our community self-isolating at home following a positive COVID-19 diagnosis.

We spoke to Fiona Wallace, Manager Chronic Disease, to find out more.

What is the COVID Care Response program?

The COVID Care Response program was established by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) during the second wave of the pandemic in Melbourne, to address concerns that people who test positive to COVID-19 may have difficulty self-isolating. The purpose of the program is to help people successfully self-isolate at home, reducing the likelihood of them leaving isolation and potentially spreading the virus in the community. The program involves hospital networks working with community health organisations, primary health networks and General Practitioners to deliver medical, social and welfare support to people who are self-isolating after a COVID-19 diagnosis.

Who is involved in the program?

Our service works across quite a wide region. In the north-east we have been working with the Austin Hospital, Banyule Community Health, and YOUR Community Health. In the east we have been working with Eastern Health, Access Health and Community, EACH, and Eastern Health Community Health. We have also worked with the primary health networks, Eastern Melbourne PHN and Northern Western PHN, as well as local General Practitioners, who assist in contacting and monitoring clients. It’s been a really great collaborative process, and it’s been wonderful to see all of these health sectors working together to achieve a great outcome for the clients in isolation.

How does the program work?

When a person tests positive to COVID-19, they are placed on a DHHS register. Hospital networks Austin Health and Eastern Health then refer people from that register to the COVID Care Response team at a community health service in the region they live in.

When we make initial contact with a client, we inform them that they will receive a range of supports. Clients may decline support if they wish, or may choose to receive minimal support such as a text a few times a week, rather than a daily text or phone call.

Their symptoms and condition are then assessed by the community health team and nurses to determine if they have a low, medium or high risk of their condition becoming serious. High risk clients are generally admitted to hospital, medium risk clients are monitored by nurses or doctors, and low risk clients are supported by the COVID Care Response team.

To support a client during their isolation period, we will maintain frequent contact, in accordance with their preference, and respond to their medical, social or welfare needs.

This may include checking on their symptoms and general wellbeing, delivering masks, organising grocery deliveries, and linking clients to mental health support services, social and welfare support programs, or charities and community groups such as Foodbank. We will remain in contact with the client until they have been cleared to leave isolation by DHHS, which generally happens between day 11-15 (but this is always dependent on a client’s individual circumstances).

Who does the COVID Care Response program support?

The program is available to provide support to anyone who tests positive to COVID-19, who is then required to self-isolate at home. If a client has a more complex home situation, such as living in a shared household with several other people, or doesn’t have a fixed address, then we can support them to enter hotel isolation if required.

In our region we have found our mix of clients to be mainly international students, followed by frontline workers such as healthcare staff and cleaners, and people living in shared households.

What impact do you think the program has had on reducing the spread of COVID-19?

I definitely think the program has prevented the spread of the virus to a degree. People that may have otherwise felt the need to leave their homes to work, access services or purchase supplies have been supported to stay at home during isolation.

For example, we were supporting a household of several international students, many of whom were working in hospitality. Without the support from the program, they may have felt pressure to leave isolation, go to work, and possibly spread the virus.

As well as potentially reducing the spread, I think the program has been really good in supporting people’s general welfare and wellbeing. For clients isolating on their own in particular, we were able to provide support and comfort during what can be a really challenging time.

What has been the response to the program, from both staff and clients?

Since the program began, nearly every client has thanked us for our support and we’ve been very fortunate to not receive any negative feedback or responses. I think people have understood the purpose of what we were trying to do, that we were working to ensure their health and wellbeing and that of the wider community.

When we were approached to participate in the program, we received a great response from staff who were eager to be involved and make a difference. They worked really hard, came in on weekends and dedicated many hours to supporting the health and welfare of their clients, which is very much in the spirit of what we do as a community health organisation.

With low rates of COVID-19 in the community currently, is the COVID Care Response program still operating?

The program is technically still operating, but we currently don’t have any clients. We can reinstate staff and resources at any time if cases are diagnosed in our community, but we’re hoping that we won’t need to!

For the latest updates and information on coronavirus (COVID-19), visit the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services coronavirus website.