Fears disabled will go without essential care after mandate deadline


Some disabled people fear they’ll be left without critical help when the Covid-19 vaccine mandate kicks in next week for all home care and support workers.

A mother pushes her adult daughter around a shopping mall in a wheelchair.

Carers have until 15 November to let least get their first vaccine dose. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Mike Hamill, a disabled man in Invercargill, spent almost a year searching for the right two carers.

He has three in total, who give him round the clock care from his home.

But now he is preparing for a difficult farewell.

Two of his carers won’t get their vaccine because it’s against their cultural beliefs.

“They’ve been in tears, absolutely heartbroken. Can you imagine what it’s like to lose a carer that you’ve had for 12-15 months? They know my needs, they can understand me, other carers can’t”.

Hamill is fully vaccinated himself and feels the government mandate has put an unnecessary burden on both him and the workers who look after him.

“Being independent gives me choices, this mandate doesn’t,” he said.

All home care and support workers were given early access to the vaccine in the first part of the government’s roll out this year.

The hard, no jab, no job, rule comes into effect next week.

All care workers have until end of Monday 15 November to have at least their first dose.

Chief Executive of the Disability Support Network, Peter Reynolds, said many employers weren’t sure what was going to happen on Tuesday.

“Our sector is the sort of place where there aren’t alternative duties to put people into. They’re either working to support a disabled person, or they’re not,” he said.

Reynolds said the network had been talking to employers, and estimated somewhere between 3 to 15 percent of the sector was unvaccinated, but it was still difficult to know.

That number could still amount to thousands of workers out of the sector, and he said the consequences were too serious.

“One person acting as a support worker for a disabled person in their home who cannot work after the 15th is one person too many. In a workforce shortage that we’re experiencing, the chances that disabled people won’t receive the support they need is just too great.”

HealthCareNZ is one of the biggest nursing and disability services and has a staff vaccination rate similar to the country’s, chief executive Josephine Gagan said.

That would mean, of it’s 6000 care workers across the country, roughly 600 may remain unvaccinated and lose their job.

Gagan said the sector was trying to do what it can to support their workers.

“There’s a lot of confusing and conflicting information out there. For our staff, it’s been quite distressing. But the key thing for us to be supportive and understanding, and furnish them with as much accurate and scientific information that we have access to,” she said.

Understaffing in the care sector is an huge issue and Disability Connect chairperson Colleen Brown is worried about the impact the mandate is going to have on disabled people.

“I think we’re going to be grappling with this for some months to come,” she said. “But when people don’t get the support that they require, I don’t know where they’re going to go.”

She said while she can understand vaccination was a personal decision, the stakes were too high for disabled people.

“The disability sector can’t be the sacrificial lamb here. We can’t have people who are incredibly vulnerable people just accepting anyone if they’re not taking all the precautions that are going to keep people safe.”

Henrietta Bollinger says disabled people like herself have taken a collective sigh of relief.

Bollinger’s carers have been vaccinated for some time now, but the mandate helps with certainty.

“I’d wanted to take some of that management responsibility off my shudders. I do think that having the choice of who comes into your space and does that work for you. People are in your home and that’s quite an intimate space,” she said.

Disabled Persons Assembly chief executive Prudence Walker said the mandate had been warmly welcomed by many disabled people.

“Many disabled people are at greater risk if they get Covid-19 and this move is seen as prioritising disabled people’s lives.”

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