My name is Francis. Lynch, thanks for joining me on the Comments and Musings podcast. Today I speak to Ann-Maree Davis, the CEO of Amicus, a disability organisation in Victoria, and we talk about the impacts of COVID-19 on her organisation. Welcome, Anne-Maree. Thanks for joining me on the comments and musings podcast. I’m talking to leaders from a range of organisations in the Community, health and aged care sectors about how they have adapted to the impacts of COVID-19 in 2020. We’re recording this in September, so we’re a few months in now and. We’ve all made a lot of changes about how we’re working. Can I ask you to tell me about Amicus? And what you.
Ann Maree Davis: Yes, Amicus is a community service organisation delivering services in central and northern Victoria predominantly to vulnerable children and youth and people with a disability of all ages. So we deliver a range of services funded by both. Department of Health and Human Services and the NDIS
Francis Lynch: And and you’ve been doing this in the community for quite a while, haven’t you?
Ann Maree Davis: Yes. So we have a particular focus of community based support for our organisation. So our service model is either delivered in people’s homes or in the Community. So we don’t have a facility based response of of any kind. And we also only provide a very small number of. Programme, so predominantly every person that we support at Amicus is supporting one person at a time. And you know that provides different opportunities, but also different challenges in a COVID invironment as well.
Francis Lynch: Yeah. And one person at a time, that’s that’s really important to you, isn’t it?
Ann Maree Davis: That certainly is important, so we would consider that to be, I guess, the basis of our organisational philosophy that underpins the way that we work with all of our participants.
Francis Lynch: So I’m wondering how COVID-19 might have impacted Amicus. This year.
Ann Maree Davis: It’s a good question, and hindsight is a valuable thing. I in March, I had no idea how something like COVID might have impacted amicus and any of the scenario planning on modelling that you may have done certainly probably won’t have equipped any of us for the sustained impact of COVID. Particularly in Victoria and. But I guess Amicus is an essential service. So the services that we provide for the majority of people are absolutely essential. One of the things that we did very early on, because we do work one person at a time is that we contacted every participant at amicus to understand. What if it became very difficult for us to deliver services? What were the most important services for them to to recieve so that their well-being wasn’t impacted. So in the period between March and May, we had about 70% of our participants suspend all support. So they made the decision. Yeah. So it was quite a huge impact for us as an organisation. And look, the rationale for most people in making that decision was based on the fact that they either had vulnerable health themselves or they were living in a household with somebody had vulnerable. And as with all of us, we were really just learning about coronavirus and and COVID-19 as we went along there was if anybody was declaring themselves an expert, they were, you know, they were misrepresenting. Themselves, we really didn’t. Understand. I don’t think in the early days. So people took the, you know, we’re being very pre-emptive in terms of, you know, taking the approach of self-isolation. So that was our impact and our experience.
Francis Lynch: And and were some of those people who were not using services, were they still in contact? Like, where were your people in contact with them or?
Ann Maree Davis: So we made sure that we maintained regular contact and we identified individuals who we consider to be vulnerable, whether they identify themselves as vulnerable or not. But you know, they may live alone. They may have an agent, carer and a cognitive impairment. So we had a range of. I guess priority indicators for us to or vulnerability indicators for us to make sure that we kept in regular contact. With which is. There were others whom we asked how you know, how often would you like us to remain in contact because we wanted to There the possible mind time, sort of. A likely a weekly checking. Yeah, because. It was a it was a time where information was regularly changing, you know, and even though we communicating through all of your platforms, sending letters on social media, on your website. We really just wanted to have that personal touch and cheque in with people and make sure that they had a clear understanding of, you know, what was happening next or what. Was happening now.
Francis Lynch: And and so. As you know, as Victoria’s gone into the second wave and the the lockdown the second time round, has that Francis Lynch: sort of time lapse and and what you’ve all learnt both both I suppose. Service users and and you as the the organisation I mean has that changed in terms of people still wanting to put their their service packages on hold or are more people actually more OK?
Ann Maree Davis: More people are engaging, I think people feel a bit more or or either their their first experience was so horrible in terms of you know, whether it was being feeling alone or boredom or whatever it may have been. Even those are stricted range of activities that people can be supported to undertake. But so we still experienced suspensions as we’re calling them because people aren’t, you know, they’re just choosing not to not to receive services for a period of time. And I think given. That this time there was a time frame, so we were. Really clear well. At the beginning. That is going to be until September the 13th . The team. Yeah. And I think that for some people, they’re like, OK, that’s OK. The finish lines inside. I think that we can do it again. You know, we will just not have a risk and I look, I think that people have actually had a perception that this time was likely to be worse than the first time, particularly if we look at Central Victoria, where there was. Central and northern Victoria, where there was a relatively low transmission. Rate in in the first wave, but as we get to the second wave and particularly we started you know to see the numbers take off very quickly both in metropolitan and regional areas that I think most people who did choose to suspend their services. Did that with. A 6week time frame in mind but. This time for the 2nd wave, we’ve had about 50% cancellation, so there’s about 20% more. Who have I think are feeling confident, possibly two around. You know the feedback that we get is that people are very happy, you know, with, you know, our level of training that’s being provided to staff, you know, access to PPE. I mean, these are all issues that were very difficult for all Community service organisations to. Solve during May.
Francis Lynch: Yes, they were.
Ann Maree Davis: By March and April, because we might, we did have a small stockpile of. PPE, but certainly. Not to the level that was required in terms of the directions of Department of Health and Human Services at. The state level.
Francis Lynch: Yeah, and and it certainly has been, you know, in the community service and disability now, I mean the, the it’s it’s not even optional, it’s mandatory you have to wear that CPA when you go into somebody’s environment and and and be working with them.
Ann Maree Davis: So I think people have a different level of confidence as well, so. Yeah. So notwithstanding the fact that we still have people choose to suspend their supports, those that have remained engaged, they would be some of the factors that have, I guess given them confidence to do so.
Francis Lynch: Yeah. And how has that impacted your staff in terms of, you know, people who in some cases would have been supporting a person in the community for for quite a period of time and and then not being asked like being asked to sort of stay away for a period. How is it with that then?
Ann Maree Davis: Look, it’s been difficult. There is the connection that our staff obviously working one person at a time. You build up. A very close relationship with participants and and families and you know the the participants wider. Network so that. Was certainly challenging from an emotive level for staff. There’s also the financial impact too. So with such a significant. Decrease and times with so uncertain, particularly in the first wave and as a provider amicus was eligible for JOBKEEPER, but not until the you know, sort of it was July. So for most people it was like, oh, that’s all you know. What do we need to apply for jobkeeper for? Because you know it’s all over now, but. I think it’s called about 130 staff who are eligible for jobkeeper and that has helped in the second wave because even though we haven’t had as many people. Suspend their services. There’s still being impacts for staff around employment and paying their mortgage, and I think there’s another another. Layer of I think we can talk about the the you know there’s there’s been a fearful situation for many staff. You know, they feel that they’re at the coalface and if I could see?
Francis Lynch: They’re putting themselves at risk.
Ann Maree Davis: Anymore could be quite candid, particularly in the. Early months, there was a real focus on frontline workers, equaling nursing staff or doctors, or so first responders. But in our sector we have staff who don’t have didn’t have PPE because our sector wasn’t prioritised. They were able to provide them with training. It was, you know, it was very difficult it. Was they were very frightened that they would go. To work. And catch Corona or COVID-19. And take it back to their families. So. And it’s, I mean, I I know that. The dialogue has shifted and certainly the Community services sector and, in particular disability services sector, there have been, there’s been a change in in the dialogue and the way that our sector is described and I think that’s been very reassuring for our staff because they were just feeling like, hey, you know, we’re in here. Doing similar work and and and you know the risk for us are being identified or acknowledged, so that. Was that was. A real tension, I think, in particularly in, early months.
Francis Lynch: And and I think the you know the work when people are going into into houses in the community or or being with people in the community, it’s hidden. So it’s not like being in a hospital or being. In an aged. Care facility.
Ann Maree Davis: well, there’s that. Defintly not a hand wash facility in every room either which is you know. Of course, that was our first line of protection. Initially and it’s still. Our first line of protection, but you know there are other measures that are now in place for our, you know for our sector who are direct client facing work that are a requirement that provide additional safety.
Francis Lynch: Yeah, so, so I know you’ve you’ve sort of mentioned around the PPE and and you know the changes in the way that people have been asking, you know, so some people have been suspending services. I mean, have you had to sort of adapt your service delivery model to cope with what’s been going on this year?
Ann Maree Davis: So really one of the beauties of working one person at a time is that we can have that, you know, we can be really flexible in the way that we design A service around the participant. So we we’ve still been very much guided well firstly by what what we are able to legally do so of course we we in no matter what state or territory. Live in in Australia. So yeah, we’ve had some our own requirements in terms of whether it’s a state of emergency or a state of disaster or whatever states we’ve been up to and the restrictions that go with that. So that is. The first threshold that support request must pass, so of course we can’t deliver services that will be. In contravention of of a direction of direction, but outside of that we work with participants so they may have certainly the NDIS. Had some particular requirements around the way that supports are delivered. So initially it was seen as an unbillable service. If we were to go and. Do grocery shopping on behalf of a participant. So unless the participant was with us, there was some real challenges around whether that was a billable service or not. But of course, how ridiculous is that our, you know, particular work. With with people who have vulnerable health and the supermarket is the last place that you, you know, would be wanting to take somebody with vulnerable health at this point in time. So some of those restrictions have eased over time, which has been helpful, but there were certainly a few of those battles early on.
Francis Lynch: So so in. Terms of what’s been. You know, you’ve obviously had to take a lot of decisions over this last six months.were you looking at what was happening outside of the disability and Community services sector, or was it really just seeing what was happening and what the directions from, you know, the NDIS and the DHHS were?
Ann Maree Davis: Well, it’s really interesting. I probably shouldn’t be recorded saying this, but I was really taking my guidance from the Victorian State government because if I was going to jail for getting something wrong was going to be because I was in breach of a, you know, a lawful direction. So, you know, certainly that’s really where I was taking my lead from. And I was prepared to have to to be in the corner with the NDIS Commissioner on that one, you know, and I think I think what has been interesting without any particular political commentary, but it has been interesting to see. How the jurisdictional interplay has impacted on, you know, our experience. So yeah.
Francis Lynch: Do you have services. The cross-border. Do you go Into NSW?
Ann Maree Davis: We don’t presently. So we’re only incorporated in Victoria at the present time, but. That would have been another interlay interplay interface of. I was happy just with my little patch.
Francis Lynch: Yeah. So in terms. Of you know, we’re six months in. We don’t know how long this is going to last for, but are you at the point where you’re starting to look forward and do you have any ideas or plans about what you think will happen for amicus over the next Couple of years?
Ann Maree Davis: Well, well, I don’t think any of us are gonna look at the cold and flu season in the same way ever again, you know. So I saw that that coronavirus and COVID will eventually pass, whether that’s through herd immunity, vaccine, whatever it may be. But you know it won’t, it will. It will pass in time. That’s my belief. Look I. Think that. It will change. I think there’ll be a change in the way that people want to have their services delivered. Potentially they may, I think, certainly until we experience quite a period of. Low or no transmission, I think it will impact on people’s I guess desire to be, you know exposed too much to large group settings even if that. Possible, you know, and a big part of our work is being involving people in the Community and where I would like to see that happen. I I. The the feeling that I get is that they’re they’re they will be a reduction in opportunity and the peoples aspirations may not be as lofty for a little while. I think there will be no that will be an impact that we will see at at the personal level. You know, I think from a, I guess if we look not at the, if we look at the
Ann Maree Davis: organisational level, I think that there’s going to be a big impact on all sectors in terms of. Funding available for anything really other than what’s essential, you know. So some of the opportunities around innovation I think will be lost. For a little while.
Francis Lynch: Yeah. And certainly, you know, going back to where we were 12 months ago, it’s sort of seems like a a different world at the moment. So yeah, we’ll, we’ll. I suppose have. To be a aware of what the opportunities are and and sort of working<seize the day> through as they come up yeah. So look, thank you. Memory for for your time today. Look, it’s been interesting, actually quite interesting. I wasn’t aware of some of the. The the impacts that it was having on an organisation like Amicus and I’m a little surprised actually I didn’t realise that, you know so many service users were suspending packages and I can imagine that that’s had a big impact on on those people in the Community, but also on you as an organisation and your staff. And so thank you for your time. And giving us those insights.
Ann Maree Davis:Thank you, Francis.