Manningham Council pivots to support older people

Providing the critical supports needed to help older people maintain independence and quality of life

Image: Quilt squares by older Manningham residents

We have all needed to “pivot” during these “unprecedented times”, in our home lives and work lives. These buzz words of the pandemic have entered our vernacular. But what does it really mean to “pivot” and how does it look at the coal face of supporting older people who are more susceptible to the virus and its complications?

According to the Macquarie dictionary, to pivot is “that on which something turns, hinges, or depends”. Basketballers know the term well: they plant one foot on the ground while the other one rapidly swings to enable a quick pass or their next move in a different direction. Similarly, supporting older people in our community who are more susceptible to COVID-19, those who are older and living with chronic conditions, has needed a quick response and some lateral thinking by local governments across Victoria. Manningham Council is one example of a local government that has responded in a variety of ways to provide the critical supports needed to help older people maintain their independence and quality of life, while reducing the risk of infection to them and council staff. The “anchors” or principles of service delivery are the same – person-centred, needs based, supporting wellness and reablement – but how did Manningham pivot to provide much needed services over the past few months? Manningham Council has continued many services, albeit in different ways, and has provided new and different supports to respond to the changed circumstances.

Meals on Wheels provide critical access to regular, nutritious meals for people who are unable to prepare and cook food themselves. Meals are usually delivered by volunteers once per week but many of Manningham’s volunteers are older themselves and are potentially at greater risk of complications if they contract the virus. The meals service was redesigned, with council staff who were no longer working in their usual roles delivering frozen meals to front doors up to 5 times per week. Two teams were created in order to safeguard this essential service against a possible COVID-19 outbreak. Demand also increased with 50 new referrals received between 23 March and 4 May.

Like all local governments, Manningham’s aged and disability team were seriously concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on the community they serve. They were unsure whether their clients, many of whom are older people who normally manage reasonably well in the community, were all of a sudden finding themselves in a more at-risk group? The council could not rely on the information they had to make that call, it just wasn’t relevant. Instead, Manningham council developed a user-friendly telephone screening tool and script that could be used by their professional staff to confidently collect the right information and support clients to make decisions about their risk, social isolation and service priority. This provided an efficient and consistent approach to collect and analyse the impact on clients of COVID-19 and support future decision making. The council was able to make 2200 screening calls in less than three weeks. They collected information about 128 “at risk” and 90 isolated clients that could be followed up with changes to service or referrals as required.

Ironically, during COVID-19, the very thing designed for community safety – self isolating at home - is potentially the greatest risk to older people’s wellbeing – social isolation and loneliness. Social support programs are not able to run due to restrictions on gatherings. Many of Manningham Council’s socially isolated clients required significant support to transition to alternative ways of interacting, including how to use their various IT set ups. As a result, a variety of strategies including online group activities; Community Connection newsletters; hibernation packs; and regular ‘one on one’ telephone catch ups, were instigated. Clients linked into the support best matched to their circumstances. This comment represents the enormous amount of positive community feedback received by Manningham for their efforts: “many thanks to you all for keeping in touch with mum….your kindness and calls have helped her stay connected to the outside world and made her feel loved”.

As with many local governments, Manningham saw 289 clients suspend their in-home services due to the initial COVID-19 concerns. This was by far the minority, with most clients still needing to continue their services. Manningham Council staff participated in ‘one on one’ refresher training in hygiene procedures and used a new set of screening questions each time they provided an in-home service. Many clients who paused their service have since asked to resume as the situation changes and their confidence increases with these well-considered processes. As Manningham moves into the recovery phase, Council will carefully plan the gradual and safe resumption of services and support individuals to make informed decisions, not just on the basis of their chronological age.

For the whole community, Manningham council has set up the COVID-19 Contact Community Connect to provide a dedicated support service to anyone living in Manningham to connect people with a range of social support groups and resources depending on their needs: feeling susceptible, self-isolating or needing assistance in completing everyday tasks. The Be Kind Manningham initiative also recognises that in these challenging times, one thing we can do is band together as a community and show a little kindness to ourselves and to each other. This initiative encourages everyone in the Manningham community to continue to be kind to others, be kind to those most in need at this time, and be kind to themselves. Visit the Manningham Be Kind page to find out more.

The impact of COVID-19 has been immense on all of us and acutely felt by our older community who may be more at risk. In recognition of this, Manningham is creating a legacy with the Hibernation Quilt art piece. Older Manningham residents have been invited to make their own quilt square using any form of textile. All the squares will be put together to form a unified art piece. It’s an activity to keep busy with but also share in a common aim to create something beautiful, unique and symbolic of this time. Manningham Council’s ability to pivot and offer a range of valuable supports to its older residents is indicative of its commitment to an age and dementia friendly community, and a clear example of the critical role of local government in these “unprecedented times”.

[Source: Sharon Porteous, Active Healthy Ageing Adviser for the Eastern Metropolitan Region, Inner East Primary Care Partnership]