How Covax Australia’s post pandemic pivot is easing aged care staffing crisis

Covax Australia has pivoted to easing the burden on aged care in an almost post-pandemic world. Picture: Getty Images.
Covax Australia has pivoted to easing the burden on aged care in an almost post-pandemic world. Picture: Getty Images.

As Australia edges closer to the widely predicted “insolvency cliff”, one pandemic-sparked company – which emerged almost overnight to become a crucial part of the national response to Covid-19 – has pivoted its business to continue its growth trajectory.

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Covax Australia arrived in the early days of the pandemic when founders Mannu Kala (a former MedLab Pathology Queensland general manager) and Dr Anuj Gupta (a GP by training) began to see the scale of the crisis and realised there was no way the healthcare system was going to cope.

“At that time, people didn’t quite understand the gravity of the situation and most GP practices were turning away people who had Covid symptoms and, ethically, we felt that was not reasonable as general practitioners to turn away patients,” Dr Gupta said.

“So, we got a tent from Bunnings and we set it up in the car park outside our clinic and started seeing patients there. All we had were gloves. We didn’t even have masks.”

Covax Australia co-founders Dr Anuj Gupta and Mannu Kala. Picture: Supplied.
Covax Australia co-founders Dr Anuj Gupta and Mannu Kala. Picture: Supplied.

Demand was enormous. From there, the pair worked closely with the federal government to establish Queensland’s first respiratory clinic, only the fifth in the country, and began establishing the protocols needed and how the clinic should be run.

Next challenge

Then they started tackling the pandemic’s next big challenges – testing and immunisation.

“We knew it was only a matter of time before there was a vaccine that would need to be rolled out and we thought how are they going to do that,” Dr Gupta said.

“Mannu had a background running pathology labs and I had a background running medical centres, so we started developing strategies and policies around how that could happen at a state and federal level and started to talk to departments of health and government.”

Within days the pair was liaising with some of the largest logistics companies in the country on a plan to distribute the vaccine across Australia.

They also started to recruit en masse to staff mass testing and immunisation clinics.

“Our business model evolved constantly in those first few months,” Dr Gupta said.

“We partnered with Queensland Health to establish pop-up testing clinics. Then, when they needed clinics for immunisations, we pivoted again.

“We were able to provide the doctors, nurses, security staff, admin, cleaners – everyone that was needed to make those facilities run smoothly.”

Pandemic slowdown

The company’s biggest challenge came when the pandemic died down.

“We had 850 active employees and a database of 6,000 casual workers so we started to look into other sectors that needed staff with our expertise and, of course, aged care was the obvious answer,” Dr Gupta said.

Covax now supplies staff to 150 aged care facilities and are expecting that number to increase as the country braces for a festive season with no restrictions, a fourth Covid wave and a surge in domestic travel.

“The number of aged care facilities with at least one staff member with Covid has more than doubled this month and there is no indication that trend will change before the end of the year,” Dr Gutpa said.

“We’re prepared to plug that staff shortage void. The big concern is that the facilities themselves and even state governments aren’t prepared.”

Registered nurses are able to earn considerably higher hourly rates in hospitals compared to aged care and Dr Gupta says there needs to be a real incentive for nurses to work in aged care, especially over the holiday period.

“One thing we’ve learnt over the last few years is that preparation, planning and collaboration between the public and private sectors lead to the best outcomes,” he said.

“If we can apply the same logic to aged care, it will go a long way toward solving the staffing crisis there.”

This article was developed in collaboration with Covax Australia, a Stockhead advertiser at the time of publishing. This article does not constitute financial product advice. You should consider obtaining independent advice before making any financial decisions.

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