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Supporting residents in isolation

It’s amazing the power of a voice down the phoneline, and the peace of mind provided by a fridge full of food. The beating heart of cohealth’s COVID supports at the Dream Factory is buzzing 7 days a week with a variety of voices repeating grocery orders, explaining financial assistance or having a chat to keep people company within their four walls. 

As new outbreaks have emerged in public housing towers in the North and West over the past six weeks, the lessons from 2020 have created a world of difference in how residents are being supported in isolation, leading with a health and social support response first. 

This is a ‘look how far we’ve come’ moment – instead of surrounding public housing residents with police, they’re surrounded by social workers, nurses and interpreters.  

The COVID Pathways team has been reaching out to primary close contacts and their families living in public housing to ensure they understand the health directions, and to check they have enough food and other essentials, plus anything else that might make the 14 days more bearable. If there are big families isolating together, sometimes as large as 11, the food orders are extensive. The case workers then pass the details onto a cohealth ‘runner’, someone who is tasked with zipping around to purchase the items and ensure they are safely delivered. If public housing residents are living on a floor which is entirely under lockdown, deemed a “red zone”, then items are taken up to them by people called “porters” in full PPE. 

 I just spoke to a teenager who said ‘Thankyou so much cohealth! I’ve never seen so much food in this house! We’re so grateful!’” said case worker Tanami Kaye. 

Case workers also facilitate in-home testing if a resident is not able to get to a testing site safely, and door-knocks for welfare checks if the resident hasn’t responded. 

Some residents just want a good yarn, such as one lady who liked to tell stories about how she used to dance on the Bert Newton show. Some residents are much more complex, challenged by mental health issues, co-morbidities and housing issues exacerbated by quarantining. 

As well as the usual grocery items and requests for prescriptions to be filled, the team has also facilitated a birthday cake for a 23-year-old, a new computer for a VCE student who’s laptop had died, special North African spices for a family to be able to continue their traditional cooking, stationery and puzzles to keep bored kids occupied, and a skipping rope for a resident to keep fit. 

Heather Svensden has been a runner for the past 6 weeks, and now knows everyone who works at the supermarket, chemist and halal butcher because of her daily rounds. 

“It’s more friends than I’ve ever had!” she said. “The staff at the supermarket all know me now, they ask  what they can do to help, they’re so obliging.”  

Heather loves being out and about and helping people. 

“One of the biggest things I love is when I go to someone’s house who is isolating, and lots of people have glass panels near their front door so you can see their faces when you drop off food parcels – they’re smiling and waving at you. Especially the kids, I love that.” 

Heather is now  a master juggler of shopping lists, doing up to 4 different orders in one go, with one bag hanging at the front of the trolley, one inside the trolley, and one on either side. 

She doesn’t get to talk to many residents, unless she has to call them when she can’t get certain things on their grocery order, like one man in the Carlton flats. 

“We’ve become friends now,” she said. “When I ring I say it’s Heather, not Heather from cohealth. I know he’s got 3 children and his wife gets migraines. We have chats, it’s wonderful. They’re beautiful people, my heart goes out to them.”


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