Common Questions and Answers

While not covering all questions everyone will have, here are some common questions that you might have now and a refresh on some questions from last year.

1. How is Mercy Services keeping up-to-date with COVID-19 Exposure Sites/Times?

The situation is clearly difficult and continuing to evolve hour-by-hour each day.  Sometimes NSW Health are being advised of exposure sites/times quickly, whereas other times they are not and several or more days may have lapsed since exposure may have occurred.  Minister Hazzard talks about this challenge regularly in the daily media briefings that are broadcasted widely across our State.  NSW Health only learn information as fast as COVID-19 positive cases remember the information and then tell them about it.  It is only after NSW Health learn the information that others, including Mercy Services, are then informed.  Again, sometimes this is quick and other times there is a delay and sometimes the delay can be unfortunately lengthy.

Mercy is being very vigilant in the current environment.  Across each day and into the evenings we have a number of staff keeping an eye on local media sources (including social media) and also reviewing the NSW Health’s website for exposure sites/times.  We are also liaising directly with Hunter New England Health when our clients and employees tell us that they are contacted directly by NSW Health either via phone or text message.

2. What happens if I am identified by contract tracing as a close or casual contact of a COVID-19 positive case?

Generally, NSW Health will contact you directly via phone or SMS.  Contract tracing commences from there.  To assist contract tracing, our Nurse Practitioner (Jo Mutamba) is proactively involved with NSW Health from the moment Mercy Services are told of a potential exposure site/time involving a client and/or staff member.

This week we have had around 20 staff impacted, together with a number of clients.  NSW Health are generally advising close or primary contacts of a COVID-19 positive case that they need to isolate for the full 14-day period regardless if they have a swab and it is negative.  For casual or secondary contacts, the NSW Health advice is generally that they need to get swabbed immediately and self-isolate until a negative result is achieved.

Again, this is general information and cannot be relied upon in every situation.  Each situation that presents has different specifics and needs to be assessed properly by NSW Health and our Nurse Practitioner before situation specific advice can be given.

3. What happens if I need to isolate?

As mentioned in previous communications PT and FT employees will be able to access their leave entitlements during this period.  These entitlements will include sick/personal/carers leave, annual leave and long service leave for those people with an entitlement to it.

During this time of crisis, Mercy Services will permit any PT or FT employee with greater than 5 years service, the ability to access and use their accrued long service leave entitlement should they absolutely need due to COVID-19.

If you have exhausted all of these leave options you will need to take Leave Without Pay.  For staff who find themselves in this situation and who are genuinely in a difficult place financially, please contact People and Culture through your Manager or Supervisor to discuss what options we might be able to assist you with in the short-term.

4. What financial assistance might be available to me through the State and/or Federal Governments?

Information on financial assistance available through the Governments can be obtained through the Service NSW website

There appear to be two payments available and each have different eligibility criteria.  These are:

  • The Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment
  • This is only eligible for those in self-isolation or quarantine who have no appropriate leave entitlements such as pandemic leave, sick leave, personal leave or leave to care for another person.  This appears to be the most suitable possibility for our casual employees or those who may have very low leave balances; and
  • The Disaster payment
  • This is a different type of financial assistance and checks if you already receive Centrelink payments.  Potential recipients should liaise directly with Service NSW for this payment.

It does appear that if employees use their annual leave then they may not be entitled to Government assistance payments.  Please refer to the website directly using the link above to read specific criteria for eligibility.

5. What will continue to happen with Mercy’s services during this time?

Day Centres

All Day Centres will remain closed and arrangements have been made with each of the staff who have been impacted by this.  Staff may have the opportunity to work in the Home and Community Care space with clients directly, with online shopping or with welfare checking via telephone.

Lawn and Garden Care

Lawn and Garden Care will continue to operate with appropriate PPE and social distancing measures in place.

Home and Community Care Home Support

Clients who require medication, personal care and food supply and preparation will be prioritised over other services.  Social support in person will cease in line with the Government Restrictions, however, social support can continue via telephone, face-time, zoom or other technology platforms.  Domestic assistance will also continue with appropriate PPE in place and clients to be located in another room.  Staff should continue to speak to their Care Manager for up-to-date information about their rosters.  All efforts will be focused at ensuring our clients receive the necessary support that they require and that staff contracted hours are met (including Trainee CCA’s).  All service provision will be conducted with full COVID-19 appropriate protocols in place.

Where staff require additional PPE, please call Cameron Park with your order and book a time-slot for collection.  A collection station, with its on QR-code scan in and out facilities, has been established in the transport shed so as to ensure appropriate social distancing can be achieved at all times.

Care Managers will continue to work from home and consult with Jo Mutamba (Nurse Practitioner) as to whether client visitation for them is essential under the current restrictions.

Community Nursing

Community Nursing will continue with the RN’s working from home for administrative duties and only coming into the office for restocking of supplies. They will continue upholding all COVID-19 safe working practices when seeing clients in the community.

Community Transport

Unfortunately, Community Transport is the one area within our business that becomes impacted the most.  Given the lockdown measures in place across the regions, most community transport needs to stop as people cease moving about as they normally would.  Some transport remains, however, where essential medical appointments for example, need to continue.  Community Transport staff should liaise directly with Leo (Coordinator) and David (Head of Community Transport) for up-to-date information about rostering and work schedules.

Singleton Residential Facility

Singleton Residential Facility continues to operate as usual, however, the facility remains in lockdown with all COVID-19 appropriate protocols will be in place.

Alcohol and Other Drug Team

This team continue to provide services via the tele-health model of care and work from home.  All group programs remain suspended while the current restrictions are in place.

Administration and Support Services

All work that can be done remotely is being done remotely from home.  Only staff who cannot do their work in this manner continue to come into the offices.  Those staff members continuing to come into the office are wearing appropriate PPE and are social distancing.  There is only one (1) staff member per office area.


All volunteering remains suspended while the restrictions in the local area are in place.

6. What is the update on COVID-19 Vaccinations?

Thank you to the many staff who have already commenced the vaccination process by having their first shot.  We also have an increasing number of staff who are now fully vaccinated which is good news as well!

We know through our weekly surveys that we need to do in order to submit our mandatory reporting to the Government that

  • In our Singleton Residential Facility, 18% of staff have had their first vaccine dose and 67% are fully vaccinated already.  Having a COVID-19 vaccination has been mandated by the Government for all workers in Residential Aged Care Facilities and staff must have had their first shot of vaccine by 17 September 2021; and
  • In Community (including Community Transport and AOD), 26% of staff have had their first vaccine dose and 29% are fully vaccinated already.  Although having a COVID-19 vaccination is yet to be mandated for workers in these areas, we understand that this will be changed and officially announced in coming weeks.  We therefore strongly encourage all workers in Community (including Community Transport and AOD) to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

Once again, please reach out to us via the COVID-19 email address if you need assistance in booking your vaccination.  The email address is [email protected] and goes to myself, Corrina Routh and Caitlin Burke.

7. Who can I talk to if I have Questions?

If you have any further questions please do not hesitate to talk to your Manager, Head of Department, People and Culture or myself.  This continues to be a developing situation across the region and we monitor it very closely.

As directed this week, please ensure you keeping your mobiles on and charged in case we need to make contact you in the event of a COVID-19 situation.  Please also continue to regularly check your emails each day.

8. What do I do if I have a headache, fever, sore throat, sniffles or feel unwell?

Do not come to work.  Get tested immediately.  Self-Isolate until you get your test result back.

Please call your Manager, Supervisor or rostering person as soon as possible so that they can reallocate your shift.

9. Are we still taking people’s temperatures?

No.  The Delta Strain of COVID-19 is too contagious and NSW Health protocols around taking temperatures have changed. 

For staff visiting clients, temperature taking of clients will stop and be replaced with more targeted questioning before entering the house.  The script for more targeted questioning is currently being put together and will be released to staff soon.

For staff, temperature checking will still take place but people need to take their own temperatures.  The process will therefore be when you enter the office or residential facility you need to sanitise your hands and then use the thermometer to take your own temperature.  After taking your temperature you then sanitise your hands again after replacing the thermometer back on the desk.  CCA’s should take their own temperature before commencing work each day.  Where your temperature is 37.5 degrees or above you need to STOP and report to your manager immediately.  You will need to isolate and be tested until a negative result is obtained.

10. What is different with the COVID-19 Delta Strain to the COVID-19 that went around last year (2020)?

The Delta Strain of COVID-19 is far more contagious (virulent) than the strain that went around in 2020.  With the Delta Strain, NSW Public Health are determining close contacts and casual contacts by looking at whether you have spent 15 minutes or more in the same “breathing space” as a confirmed case whether or not you were wearing a mask or not wearing one.  This is a change from last year (2020) when NSW Health were using the measure of whether a person had spent 15 minutes or more within 1.5 meters of a confirmed case.  That is how much more transmissible the Delta Strain of COVID-19 is.

11. What do I do if I have been tested for COVID-19?

Do not attend work.  Isolate until you get your result.

Please call your Manager or Supervisor as soon as possible so they can reallocate your shift. 

You cannot attend work until you have received the results from this test and it is negative. Unless NSW Health have identified you as a close contact of a confirmed case, in this situation you need to follow their direction of time until you can return to work.  If, however, you are still unwell with cold or flu that is not COVID-19 then you will still need to stay away from work until you feel well again and your symptoms have subsided.  This is what would be normally in place in ordinary times anyway.

12. What do I do if I contract COVID-19?

Do not attend work.  Isolate.  Follow instructions given to you by NSW Public Health.

If you test positive for COVID-19 you will need to follow all necessary recommendations from your health practitioner and the Government.  Again, it is important that you let you Manager or Supervisor know as soon as possible and let your health practitioners know that you work in Aged Care.

13. What do I do if someone in my family or immediate household contracts COVID-19?

Do not come to work.  Get tested immediately.  Self-Isolate and follow all instructions provided to you by NSW Public Health.

Please call your Manager or Supervisor as soon as possible to discuss what we need to do moving forward.  The Delta Strain of COVID-19 has proved to be highly transmissible within households so NSW Health will likely be involved in managing your household members as a whole.  You return to work will be based on advice obtained from NSW Public Health.

14. What can I do if I need to take time off work because I am unwell or I need to self-isolate?

PT and FT employees will be able to access their leave entitlements during this period.  These entitlements will include sick/personal/carers leave, annual leave and long service leave for those people with an entitlement to it.

During this time of crisis, Mercy Services will permit any PT or FT employee with greater than 5 years service, the ability to access and use their accrued long service leave entitlement should they absolutely need due to COVID-19.

If you have exhausted all of these leave options you will need to take Leave Without Pay.  For staff who find themselves in this situation and who are genuinely in a difficult place financially, please contact People and Culture through your Manager or Supervisor to discuss what options we might be able to assist you with in the short-term.

The State and Federal Government also have emergency assistance payments available to impacted individuals and families.  More information on this can be obtained through the Service NSW website

15. What if, as a person, I am also in a higher risk category for serious infection of COVID-19 due to my own underlying health conditions?

We ask you to consider disclosing your personal health circumstances to us so that we can help manage risk minimisation with you.

Those individuals most at risk of serious infection as outlined on the Department of Health website are:

  • people with compromised immune systems (such as people who have cancer)
  • elderly people
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples (as they have higher rates of chronic illness)
  • people with chronic medical conditions
  • people in group residential settings
  • people in detention facilities

Department of Health - Who is most at risk?

Please know that disclosing your personal health circumstances to us is not compulsory.  If you do, however, choose to disclose them please be assured that your details will be treated confidentially and with the utmost respect.  The only individuals who may review this information are Corrina Routh (Quality, Clinical and Safety Advisor), Jo Mutamba (Nurse Specialist), Tony Bidstrup (CEO), Leesa Bigham (Singleton Facility Manager), Graeme Andrews (Singleton Clinical Manager), Caitlin Burke (Executive Projects Officer), People and Culture (including Lee Thistlethwaite, Michelle Hurford and Kerrie Smith).

An example of this might be if you or your immediate family member have a condition which makes you immunocompromised, or if you suffer from chronic respiratory or health issue which may be affected by exposure to COVID-19.  In this sort of situation we would know to ensure we don’t knowingly put you at further risk.

You can notify us of your personal health circumstances by emailing

[email protected]

This email address goes to Tony, Corrina and Caitlin

16. Are we expected to care for clients and residents who may have, or have been exposed to, COVID-19?

Yes, just as last year, Mercy Services are expected to continue services to clients and residents who may have, or have been exposed to, COVID-19.  Obviously if a client or resident is severely unwell with COVID-19 they will more than likely be in a hospital setting receiving more intensive support.  We do, however, know that some cases of COVID-19 remain mild and in the home-setting and therefore the client or resident might be required to be cared for in their usual place of residence.  Where this occurs you will be notified and full clinical risk assessments will be conducted by Mercy Services towards providing exceptional, but safe, care to the person.

17. How is Mercy going to approach the situation of COVID-19 in the community?

Currently, NSW does not have widespread community transmission of COVID-19 throughout the state.  It is only within certain locations and the NSW Government has implemented the strongest lockdown protocols possible in these areas and even more stringent measures in identified Local Government Areas (LGA’s) of high risk and concern.  Mercy Services will continue to remain up-to-date with NSW Health advice and may need to change the way we operate if the Health Regulations require us to do so.  As we did last year, we will take a triage approach towards the services most needed to our clients and residents.  Of utmost priority for our people is medications.  Next in the list of importance is meals and after this would sit personal care.  All efforts will be directed towards ensuring these three (3) critical areas are covered as our first priority. 

We know through Government advice and modelling that we will inevitably have a reduced workforce during this situation.  Staff will therefore be reallocated as needed to ensure these three (3) critical areas are covered.  This may mean staff will be asked to do different tasks to what they normally would do.  For example, instead of:

  • Completing a day center shift within Home and Community Care, a staff member may be asked to work in the office and phone clients to enquire about their wellbeing before our staff members visit
  • Performing AIN duties in our residential, a staff member may be asked to help out with meal preparation so our residents can be fed
  • Working in Home and Community, a staff member may be asked to assist with AIN duties in our Singleton Residential Facility (where qualified)
  • Working in a Day-Centre, a staff member may be asked to provide 1:1 social support via technology or transport instead

These are just some examples of how we might move things around so that medications, meals and personal care are covered for our clients and residents during this time.

18. What Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) might I need?

Please be assured that you will be provided with the appropriate PPE as required for the clinical situation that you might face.  That might include things like face masks, gowns, hand sanitiser, paper towel, soap etc.  Your Manager and/or Supervisor will be able to assist you with this as will Corrina Routh (Quality, Clinical and Safety Advisor), Vicki Bryant and Emma Lewis (Care Educators/Safety Officers), Jo Mutamba (Nurse Specialist)or Graeme Andrews (Singleton Clinical Manager).

19. What communication have our clients and residents received?

This situation has evolved very quickly so clients and residents will be receive communication within the next 24 hours just as we are communicating with our staff now.

Should you receive questions from clients and residents that you cannot answer please forward them on to your Manager or Supervisor.  Good communication at this time will certainly assist make things easier for staff, clients and residents alike.

20. Can I just opt to take annual or long service leave at this time?

No unfortunately not.  Annual and long service leave that has not been approved at this point in time will not be approved.  2020 taught us that we need all staff to be available to work during these difficult times, particularly if people find themselves in the situation where they are classed as close contacts and have to isolate for 14-days.  Our Outbreak Management Plan therefore says that all leave that has not been approved already, will not be approved until the situation improves and the restrictions ease. 

21. Will there be PPE supplies available to me?

Yes.  We are really well stocked with adequate PPE supplies.  Please speak to your manager if you need additional PPE equipment and what you need will be arranged for you.  Remember to order your PPE in advance of running out so that your order can be prepared for you to collect at Cameron Park.  We need to minimise people coming to the office so collecting your PPE will need to be pre-arranged and an appointment time for collection made – just like click and collect shopping.

22. What do I do if my children’s school or daycare is closed?

Children of essential workers are allowed to continue to send their children to school and/or daycare and the schools/daycare facilities remain open for them.  The only time that you may have to keep your child at home is if the school or daycare closes for cleaning because they have had a positive case of COVID-19.

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