The impact of COVID-19 on older people meant we needed to discard our plans for 2020 and work in different ways
In 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically affected the lives of all Victorians with older people identified as one of the groups most at risk. As the pandemic started to impact everyday life, COTA Victoria’s Seniors Information and Elder Abuse help lines started to receive calls from older people and their families seeking advice, help and reassurance. As well as having specific questions older people were unsettled by messages that they should stay home due to greater vulnerability to the virus and became fearful to exercise independence and make their own risk assessments. We needed to collaborate across our organisation and beyond to respond through assistance to individuals, distribution of information and seeking broader systemic change in this fast moving and confusing environment. It was also clear that our previous ways of working such as holding face to face consultations on policy issues would not be possible for the foreseeable future.
What we did
From the middle of March 2020, COTA initiated a triage-style COVID-19 Coordination working group with staff from across the organisation skilled in client information provision, communications, policy and advocacy. The group initially met twice a week, then weekly, and as the emergency response needs have evolved, became fortnightly and have continued while staff worked remotely. By the end of June 2020, 56 issues had been raised.
Some of our initiatives to understand the COVID-19 experience of older people and provide support included:
- Offering instruction to older people on how to use Zoom to participate in workshops and meetings.
- Initiating a survey and holding three focus groups to collect data from older people about their pandemic experiences, including one group specifically for older men. A total of 1146 Victorians completed COTA’s COVID-19 survey. 87% were aged over 65 years including older people who were not digitally connected. This has since led to further collaboration with the City of Whittlesea to use the survey to support further conversations and data collation from older residents.
- Approaching all levels of government and presented examples and suggested changes in policy, procedures and information dissemination.
- Presenting and making a written submission to the Public Accounts and Estimates Inquiry into the Victorian Government’s Response to COVID-19.
COTA was able to represent the voices of older people and their specific needs in the COVID-19 pandemic to government and through our media platforms. As a result of our efforts and those of others, the Victorian Government developed specific resources, links, and support systems for older people. COVID-19 coordination has strengthened internal collaboration and reinforced the linkage between our helplines and policy and advocacy so we can assist older people in difficult and changing times. The use of a survey and remote consultations via Zoom has expanded our consultation methodologies in ways that we will continue to utilise. They have yielded valuable perspectives on older peoples’ experience during COVID-19 that we are still in the process of sharing. Feedback from older people has demonstrated that while they have specific needs and vulnerabilities during such a crisis, they are also resilient and flexible. With support and encouragement, they can adapt to new demands and provide positive examples to the whole community.