Uniting Church WA caring agencies, through the Uniting WA Forum, presented their reports to the 44th Annual Meeting of the Synod, focusing on how they have adapted to continue to provide essential services in the community through the COVID-19 pandemic.
They also each thanked Rev Steve Francis, Ex-Moderator of the Uniting Church WA, for his support to the caring agencies during his time as Moderator, and gifted him with a candle embedded with the logos of each agency.
“It is a symbol of the light that you have shone for us over the years of your leadership,” said Chris Hall, CEO of Juniper. “We hope it is a sign of gratitude and something you’ll remember into the future. We thank you for your support and guidance.”
As the CEO of Juniper, a Uniting Church WA agency providing residential and community aged care, Chris shared some of the huge impacts COVID-19 has had on their sector. Thankfully, no residents, client, staff or volunteers have tested positive to COVID-19 to date.
“Juniper’s response has followed Commonwealth and State guidelines and regulations,” said Chris. “When COVID first hit we introduced some strict isolation restrictions on all our facilities.
“COVID was largely unknown and we needed to ensure that we had tie to protect residents in our care. So we locked down our facilities for a period of time. Our objective all the way through was to keep residents and clients connected with each other, with their friends and their families.
“About half of people living in aged care in this country do not have visitors. Isolation is a huge issue. Social stimulation, exercise and reassurance were important, and regular communication has been essential.”
During restrictions, Juniper used technology such as iPads to keep residents connected with loved ones, as well as to provide entertainment, connection to media, and telehealth sessions. Activities such as hallway bingo and art therapy were also introduced, while maintaining social distancing.
They also increased one-on-one time between residents and staff, and implemented weekly well-being checks which were reported back to families.
As well as metro and regional care, Juniper also provides aged care services across the Kimberley. Chris said that residents in these areas had harsh restrictions for a longer period of time, and access to technology was harder.
“COVID remains a major threat for aged care,” he said. “The eventual opening of WA borders and community transmission will create enormous risk.
“We continue to strengthen out preparedness, we continue to learn from the eastern states, we continue to update our plans and do all we can.
“We can always do better. I believe you can be proud of what Juniper’s residents, staff and volunteers have been able to achieve. We ask that you continue to support and pray for us as we face the challenges of the future.”
Good Sammy Enterprises
Melanie Kiely, CEO of Good Sammy Enterprises an agency providing meaningful employment for people living with disability, said the COVID-19 pandemic showed their agency how strong their community is.
“COVID really taught us all how good we can be at adapting; how creative we can be if we all stay positive and work together,” she said.
“We trained a number of our people to be baristas. We got a donated coffee machine and now they make the most delightful coffee and we’ve moved it into our canteen where we’ll launch it as a commercial canteen.
“When COVID hit a lot of our people chose to work from home. We were very conscious that home is not always the place to be for everybody. So we used Zoom and ran cooking classes, bingo and horse husbandry.
“Those have been a success so we’re continuing those.”
During the height of COVID-19 restrictions, when stores were closed, Good Sammy Enterprises engaged staff in new projects, such as making tote bags from recycled fabrics and opening an online store: shop.goodsammy.com.au
“Our people taught us if we stay positive and live in community, you’ll be surprised at what we can do: how we can be the church in action, come together as community and do the greater good.”
Melanie encouraged Synod members to talk to their church community about how they can support Good Sammy Enterprises, through donations and hosting donation bins on their premises.
“Partner with us so that we can help make that a success and create more jobs for people with a disability,” she said.
Amanda Hunt, CEO of Uniting WA, said the agency experienced extremely high demand during COVID-19 restrictions, with hundreds of people turning up to the Tranby Centre for food and housing support each day.
“What we uncovered over the period of COVID, was a community that cares,” she said.
“I know that there would have been many times that you sat in the safety and comfort of your own homes and felt blessed to know that you were safe.
“Imaging sitting at your kitchen table after three weeks straight of Zoom calls and getting sent a visual image from your neighbours which shows 400 people in your car park who are locked out.
“While we were in lockdown, people were locked out of our community. For us at Uniting it filled us with despair, horror and survivor guilt.
“There was nowhere for them to go. There was no food on the streets, there was no shelter.
“We had to think of different ways of working.”
She said the WA community recognised there was great need, and supported them with help and donations.
Staff of the agency worked tirelessly to make sure vulnerable people in the community were safe, often while putting themselves under more pressure. Uniting WA worked with RUAH and the State Government to provide accommodation for vulnerable people in hotels, as well as providing extra safety for staff and clients around infection control.
“We made sure our staff were safe as well,” she said. “I felt like I was fighting an invisible battle. All we knew was that we had to keep fighting.
“The thing that people fear is the unknown. We had a very compelling need to make sure we created certainty, and that was about keeping people safe.
“Our staff felt like they were stretched but they just kept going. A lot of the people who live in our supported housing turned around and helped our staff because they’re used to being isolated – saying ‘its ok, here’s how you get through every day.’
“We realised we had to stay absolutely present. There was no future or past there was only right now.
“Everybody is strong and connected. We all reached out to each other.”
Amanda thanked the Uniting Church for their prayers and support during this time.
“The welfare crisis as unemployment crises, there will be more people in hardship,” Amanda said. “Let’s make sure we don’t leave anyone behind.”
Members of the Synod spoke from the floor, directing their gratitude to the Uniting Church WA agencies for serving others in the name of the church.