Staff from South Australia’s Lutheran aged care providers didn’t hesitate to put up their hands when the call went out for personnel to assist in Victoria during the COVID-19 crisis, as part of the National Aged Care Emergency Response (NACER) program. A total of five staff from Lutheran aged care facilities were deployed to Melbourne’s COVID hot spots, including three from LHI Retirement Services and two from Fullarton Lutheran Homes.
Graham Reed, CEO at LHI Retirement Services, said that the two personal care workers and one cleaner recruited from his facility were selected from a number of volunteers, after the urgent government call-out.
“We had several staff consider the request and the final three were selected for their resilience and sense of calling,” he said.
“All of the volunteers from LHI and other SA aged care organisations participated in a two-hour briefing session with a representative of the Commonwealth Department of Health that pointed out the challenges that the staff would face on the ground in nursing homes that were in dire need of staff – not one of the staff pulled out after the briefing.”
Graham expressed his admiration and pride in the volunteers, saying he had stayed in touch with them during their deployment and subsequent quarantine period.
“I am in awe of the decision that all these staff made to head over to Victoria into what they knew would be very dangerous and personally challenging circumstances,” he said.
“They all maintained a very positive attitude in spite of some setbacks and appreciated the opportunity to serve.”
The LHI staff members were deployed in teams for a four-week stint working in Melbourne facilities deemed most in need, followed by two weeks in quarantine when they crossed back over the South Australian border to come home.
Bridget (pictured far left):
With a previous career as a police officer spanning twenty-two years, Bridget Irrgang’s mindset was already fixed on helping those in need. Bridget was deployed as a cleaner, a role she usually undertakes at LHI.
“I really looked forward to the opportunity to help out in Victoria, I was interested as soon as I saw the email….the only thing I was concerned about was leaving the kids,” she said.
Although her two children are young adults, Bridget knew that her absence would pose a challenge for both them and herself. She was also hesitant to leave her beloved pets including her Rottweiler, Koda.
“This is the first time that my kids have had to run the house on their own, which I’m sure has been a good thing,” she says. “Now they can see what Mum actually does – working, shopping, cooking, housework and looking after the pets!”
Bridget describes her work in Melbourne as ‘constant cleaning and sanitising’. The mandatory full PPE gear was often hot and uncomfortable, and meant it could be hard to tell staff apart from one another while on the job. Despite these challenges, Bridget said she appreciated the teamwork and camaraderie established throughout the experience.
“I wasn’t really concerned about contracting COVID, I knew that if I did as we were taught we should be OK. We went and worked as a team and bonded immediately, we were always looking out for each other and our safety was a top priority.”
Speaking from hotel quarantine upon her return to South Australia, Bridget said that she was looking forward to seeing her family again as well as getting back to work at LHI.
“I’ve really missed my residents, especially the ones I visit daily,” she said. “I also look forward to catching up with my colleagues and friends at work – it feels like I have been gone forever.”
Monei (pictured third from right):
Deployed as a personal care worker, Monei Seduku says she felt ‘blessed’ to be given the opportunity to serve others during the pandemic.
“Service to humanity is the most gratifying aspect of my life,” she said. “Some say ‘plant trees under whose shadow you do not expect to stay’ and the bible says ‘blessed is the hand that giveth.’”
While the days were sometimes unpredictable with staffing needs constantly changing depending on the circumstances, Monei says she felt that most days were overall ‘filled with a sense of gratification and accomplishment.’
Thoughts of her own family prompted Monei to put her hand up for deployment.
“My own father is ageing and I had been wishing I was back home with my family during this trying time,” she said. “I felt guilty that I would not be able to be there should my father contract the virus, so the deployment gave me an opportunity to make a difference in other elderly people’s lives.”
Monei’s deep-seated desire to help others stems from her problem-solving life philosophy.
“Each time there is a problem, I see myself as part of the solution,” she said, quoting Martin Luther King Junior’s famous words: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘what are you doing for others?’”
Photo credit: Monei Seduku