Providing rapid, holistic COVID-19 support for people with disability

SESLHD’s specialised COVID-19 Disability Response Team has seen a significant increase in demand in recent months for its personalised approach to supporting people with disability who have COVID-19 or are identified as close contacts.

Nicole Marchisone leads the team from SESLHD’s Disability Strategy Unit, Specialist Intellectual Disability Health Team, and Public Health Unit. She says while the plan was initially developed during the first COVID-19 wave in 2020, the size of the current outbreak has meant they have been rolling it out on an almost daily basis to support people with disability.

“It’s extremely important that people with disability who are diagnosed with COVID-19 or are close contacts can get the support they need at home, in an environment they’re comfortable in,” says Ms Marchisone. “We aim to prevent people from needing to be admitted to EDs and also minimise the spread of COVID-19 in disability group homes. We know that when people with disability do end up in hospital, they tend to stay for a longer time and can sometimes face challenges accessing care that is tailored to their complex needs.”

When a person with disability is diagnosed with COVID-19, whether they live in a disability group home, with their family or independently, SESLHD’s COVID-19 Disability Response Team jumps into action. The team provides a rapid response to ensure the spread of COVID-19 is contained, residents continue to receive their essential disability supports, and specialist staff are mobilised to provide care.

“On an individual basis, we support and guide people with disability, whether physical or intellectual, to effectively self-isolate, get access to individualised approaches to COVID-19 testing and vaccination, and provide information about infection control and PPE to carers,” continued Ms Marchisone. “Through our personalised and targeted approach, we’ve avoided a significant number of people with disability ending up in hospital due to a breakdown of disability supports. This has an enormously positive impact on people’s sense of autonomy over their health and is a great relief for family members and carers.”

Kylie Houghton King, a mother of a child with a disability and COVID-19, recently shared her gratitude for the help provided by the team. “Thank you so much for helping my son James. He is such a very special and beautiful child and given a situation that could possibly have led to extreme distress, you have made it comfortable for him. James is happy and I couldn’t ask for more. I’m grateful for the personal attention we’ve been given".

The Disability Response Team works in collaboration with multiple agencies, including the Department of Communities and Justice, National Disability Insurance Agency, Ministry of Health, and Central and Eastern Sydney PHN, to provide holistic health and social support. They also provide advice to other health staff working in SESLHD’s facilities on how to best support people with disability in a way that’s inclusive and responsive to their complex needs.

Female holding a sign, saying "How to stop the spread of COVID-19"