Physical therapy program helping aged care residents rebuild strength after COVID-19 lockdowns

An injection of funding has helped to improve physical health outcomes for those living in residential aged care facilities in western Victoria.  

During 2020, residential aged care facilities (RACFs) were greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, managing outbreaks that led to restrictions to protect residents from the virus. 

Normal exercise routines and access to the outdoors were often not possible under COVID-19 infection prevention protocols leading to physical deconditioning among some residents.  

In response, the Commonwealth Government developed the COVID Allied Health Package – Additional Group Physical Therapy, providing funding to Primary Health Networks (PHNs) to increase access to allied health services for older Australians living in aged care. 

Western Victoria Primary Health Network (WVPHN) was allocated $166,040 to commission allied health service providers to deliver small group physical therapy to residents of RACFs in the region that had been impacted by multiple cases of COVID-19 as of October 2020.  

WVPHN Chief Executive Officer Rowena Clift said the COVID Allied Health Package – Additional Group Physical Therapy Program has taken significant steps to enhance the quality of life of aged care residents after what has been a challenging two years.  

Ms Clift said: “To have allied health service providers visiting aged care residents for individualised therapy significantly improves health outcomes for patients, especially when recovering from the effects of the pandemic. Residents are supported to restore their physical strength while also building a sense of social connectedness through group sessions after many months of social distancing requirements.” 

“The program has also enhanced accessibility to allied health care services for elderly patients by fostering relationships between the participating allied health providers and aged care facilities.” Ms Clift said. 

Providing greater access to physical therapy for aged care residents at Highton Gardens Care Community in Geelong.

Two RACFs in the western Victoria region were eligible to take part in the program – Highton Gardens Care Community in Geelong and Bill Crawford Lodge in Ballarat.  

Service delivery commenced in September 2021 with Healthcare Australia providing services to Highton Gardens Care Community and Vivir Healthcare the selected provider in Ballarat.  

The program has focused on restoring physical conditioning with physiotherapists, exercise physiologists and occupational therapists delivering twenty-six weeks of physical therapy with participating residents.  

Residents are supported to attend tailored group physical therapy sessions that work to rebuild fitness and strength and address physical health challenges exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Speaking of her involvement in the program Amber Wong, Occupational Therapist at Healthcare Australia said the physical therapy sessions have provided a renewed sense of motivation for residents to engage in exercise.  

Ms Wong said: “The Additional Group Physical Therapy Program has offered a great opportunity for residents to participate in a more structured exercise program. We had been through a few outbreaks at Highton Gardens, and it was frustrating to see residents losing interest in engaging in activities after being isolated inside their rooms during pandemic restrictions. However, it is rewarding to see that residents are keen to get back into these exercise groups and improve their physical capacity.” 

The COVID Allied Health Package is being delivered in addition to other allied health programs available to RACF residents and runs until the end of April 2022.  

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