Courage and dedication as waters rise

Staff turning up for work even though they have lost their homes in the floods in central Victoria, another employee working from her home which is only accessible by boat, and yet another who lost her home who is busy working on her laptop from a caravan parked in a friend’s yard.

These are the stories of courage and bravery emerging from Uniting AgeWell staff badly impacted by the floods who are still – with all the flood chaos that is going on – putting our clients front and centre in everything that they do.

And it’s not only in regional Victoria – our staff in Tasmania are doing it tough too.

First up, the enormity of the situation. Uniting AgeWell Regional Director Victoria Kai Tane says a total of 1100 home care clients are in the affected areas, with 886 in areas directly under threat, as outlined by the SES.

Another 250 clients were outside the flood danger zone, but had to be guided through general warnings around being prepared in the case of flooding.

Every day as the disaster unfolded, an emergency team made up of members from across the organisation including CEO Andrew Kinnersly, Deputy Chief Executive Fonda Voukelatos, Chief Operating Officer Julia Maya and the Executive Team, met to discuss relief strategies as the flood levels rose. And volunteers from various departments who put their hands up to help were included in the mix.

“We had to identify who the high risk clients were and make sure they were informed, review evacuation plans, refer them to the SES if needs be …” Kai explains. “There was a long list of vital things to do.”

A clinical team was set up to triage the clients according to their risks, with most vulnerable being those who live alone, and with no family. Twenty were identified as extremely high risk, and UA staff jumped into action to put them up in hotels – with Uniting AgeWell picking up the tab.

A huge coordination response was enacted whereby clients with more complex needs were identified and transported to Uniting AgeWell’s residential aged care sites in both Bendigo and Melbourne for emergency respite care. “Our teams also kept in daily contact with clients who are deemed as high risk and in isolated areas who declined to evacuate,” Kai says. And he points out that it has been both humbling and a privilege to see the huge amount of dedication from our teams in both Echuca and Wangaratta. “They have banded together to work as a unit, prioritising their clients and their colleagues’ needs. I simply could not be more proud of them.”

He warns the floods are a slow moving disaster and are not yet over, with more rain forecast.

Meanwhile Loddon Mallee Community Programs Program Manager Natasha Crimmins, who had to evacuate her home outside Echuca, says her team has been “incredible”.

Echuca Care Organiser Dorien Van de Zand (pictured) is living in an area with about 30 other homes which is now a little island accessible only by boat. Supplies come in and out on the boat. Dorien is still beavering away working safely from home, and counts her blessings that her house has not flooded.

Echuca Care Advisor Carolyn Bacon was among some 1500 Rochester residents who lost their homes. She is now working from a caravan parked on a friend’s property in Bamawm. She took some time to sort out her situation, and is still working. “I can’t change what’s happened with my house – all my belongings except for a few clothes have gone. The most devastating losses are the photographs and the little things that my grandchildren have made for us. At times I feel numb but yes, I’m carrying on working. That’s what we do,” Carolyn says. “I am so appreciative of the team in Echuca – they and Natasha have been wonderful!”

“Staff have been working every day, after hours and on weekends and have put in the hard yards to ensure the wellbeing of our clients,” says Natasha. “They have gone above and beyond. And what we are seeing are our Uniting AgeWell values and the Echuca community spirit at work.”

Even those home care workers who have been rostered off shifts on full pay until it is deemed safe for them to return are itching to get back to work. “They phone up all the time, worried about clients and asking when they can get back to helping them,” says Natasha.

Meanwhile Emma Williamson, Program Manager at Wangaratta, says three quarters of her farm is underwater – but the house is still okay. She praises the incredible team spirit of workers at Wangaratta, and also pays tribute to the Kingsville Program Manager Paul Vodden and his team who pitched in to make calls and check up on clients. “We couldn’t have done it without them,” Emma says.

Sue Tuckwood, Acting Director for Loddon Mallee Home Care Programs, says many staff and clients in the Swan Hill / Kerang area have been effected in one way or another, whether it’s their own property or a neighbour down the road. One of our staff who has a farm has lost their crops to the flood waters and some clients in the Kerang area had to be relocated to Swan Hill in a bus along with some coming in cars supported by the Swan Hill team.

Sue says staff were particularly resilient during the floods and she commends them for their dedication and hard work. “Across all the areas that have been effected by these floods, the team spirit remains strong. It’s the Aussie way to roll up your sleeves and help those who need it. Just to get the job done and rest when it’s over,” says Sue.

It has also been a juggling act in north western Tasmania as staff figured out how best to help clients impacted by the floods.

Home Care Programs Tasmania Program Manager Ann Bingham says the areas around Latrobe and Railton were badly affected – and photos taken show the washed out road literally metres from the Uniting AgeWell Latrobe office.

The Cam River Bridge connecting Burnie to clients who live in the Somerset and Wynyard areas had traffic reduced to one lane – with a wait from one to three hours to cross the bridge. Ann says staff looked at alternate routes – and the next accessible one was washed out. The other alternate route was two-and-a-half hours longer.

She said juggling rosters where they had a direct care worker visiting multiple clients in these hard to access areas on one day, and also brokering services from other providers proved to be the solution.

“Luckily none of our clients had to be evacuated, their homes are still safe,” says Ann. “But many roads have been badly damaged and are un-driveable at this stage.”

Ann says four direct care workers were cut off through the floods and couldn’t get to work, and Care Advisor Hannah Baldock had water through her shed but her house was okay.

“But staff are always so positive – it’s incredible to work with such dedicated caring people.”

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