Fresh Hope Care Rallies Under Bushfire Threat

11 Feb 2020

Fresh Hope Care has 8 residential services and 7 retirement villages in NSW. Many of our services are set in beautiful natural bush settings which places them at higher risk of bushfires. As such, all sites have bushfire readiness plans which are reviewed prior to every fire season. This includes how to support residents and staff, whether the direction is to shelter in place or to evacuate. Our property staff also prepare sites to minimise the risks of embers taking hold. This fire season we have actively prepared for potential evacuation at 4 residential services and 1 retirement village across NSW – Coffs Harbour, Forestville, Nowra, Batemans Bay and Mittagong.

Fortunately, we have not received a direction to evacuate at any of our sites so far this fire season. At Batemans Bay the fire front was very close (picture attached) and the amazing support of the RFS both on the ground and from the air, kept residents, staff and the site itself safe for which we are most grateful (picture attached).

We are very proud of the way our staff handled the threat the bushfire’s presented at each of the sites. Our staff remained committed to supporting their residents and colleagues on site despite the risk to their own homes. Many staff worked additional hours and tirelessly to support their residents and each other. 

When sheltering in place staff were mindful of the reduced air quality and ensured that residents were protected from this hazard in the best possible way

The Glen at Catalina in Batemans Bay came under direct ember attack and was isolated from the broader community due to road closures. Fortunately, the design of The Glen (3 level, cement brick construction and only 10 years old) supported residents and staff to shelter in place during the fires. Everyone moved to the middle floor of the building to minimise risk exposure from ground level and above. During the recent episode we had up to 12 family members of residents, and some staff, sheltering in place on site at any one time. The Glen was a safer option when they were evacuated from their own homes. We were delighted to be able to provide them shelter and support and a break from the dense smoke that enveloped the Batemans Bay area.

Prior to the initial road closures, we had increased our food and medical deliveries to The Glen to ensure up to two weeks of supplies were available where possible. This assisted greatly in the maintenance of services to residents, families and staff on site throughout the period the roads were closed.

The extended power outage was of concern as it impacted our ability to run air conditioning and interrupted communications and use of our usual electronic support systems. Our walk-in freezer maintained itself below required temperature levels for refrigeration, so food was able to be kept fresh just not frozen. Lack of power also meant that we could not use oxygen concentrators and we are fortunate we do not have any residents who require constant oxygen for life support. If we had, they would have been transferred to the acute hospital for ongoing care. 

The intermittent telecommunications throughout the southern region was challenging not only for us, but also for family members. At times like this you want nothing more than to speak directly to your loved one or at least to someone who is with them. Understandably speaking to someone from ‘head office’ is just not the same. Some family members I spoke with had been impacted themselves by the Victoria fires and were speaking to me from various evacuation centres. Despite the risk they faced they were intent on checking on their loved ones. With telecommunications also affected in Victoria, this resulted in the calls to and from mobile phones being constantly interrupted and this no doubt added to their levels of stress. 

Due to the unswerving commitment of our staff and in particular the senior management team at The Glen, care services have continued through the fire emergency. During an event such as this it’s skin integrity, hydration and weight of residents which is often compromised. We had no acute transfers to hospital due to the fire event, and residents who all returned to their usual rooms were assessed by expert clinicians to ensure any changes were addressed.

Our residents were incredibly understanding and supportive having to be all ‘housed’ on one floor and not in their usual rooms which changed the dynamics within the home. Residents were accepting of the necessity of the change and those more able spent time supporting those who were not. We may well see some lasting friendships result! One of our residents with a diagnosis of dementia had been non-communicative during her time with us and has started conversing with others during this event. Now that the resident has returned to her own room and environment her conversations with others continues.

We could not have asked more from our staff or our residents and the local families who arrived with treats, batteries, little generators and even clothing for the staff. Our Chaplains and Volunteer Pastoral Carers have been a great support to our residents, their families and our staff. And our Mission & Ministry Team from Rhodes Office have donated funds to staff to assist in the recovery process. Local business has been very supportive ensuring they held stock available to support the service. And, in a show of support Richard Colbeck Minister for Aged Care and Seniors Australians, Youth and Sport, visited The Glen’s residents and staff.

While the fire activity nation-wide is unprecedented, our sites remain vigilant and prepared to act in accordance with directions by the RFS.

We would like to thank all the emergency services for their ongoing commitment in keeping all communities safe and in particular the ground and aerial crews who have been instrumental in protecting our residents, staff and The Glen.

Lynn Bailey
Executive General Manager
Fresh Hope Care

Richard Colbeck, Minister for Aged Care and Seniors Australians, Youth and Sport, visited The Glen’s residents and staff.

The Glen at Catalina in Batemans Bay