Andrea E. Schmidt, Kai Leichsenring, Heidemarie Staflinger, Charles Litwin and Annette Bauer
28th April 2020
This posts provides a brief overview of the challenges that Austrian long-term care (LTC) system has encountered in relation to COVID-19, the full report is available here.
As in many other countries, the Austrian LTC system has been placed under huge pressure during the COVID-19 crisis, as this sector was not considered the most important area of intervention for the onset. Obtaining masks and security gear has been a big problem in care homes and even more so in the home care sector. However, the number of cases as well as the number of deaths in care homes is likely to be much lower in Austria than in other countries.
The Austrian government has created a 100 million euro LTC support fund to help regional governments find alternative sources of provision, if informal carers who provide more than 70% of all care, or personal carers who cover about 6-7% of people in need of care, cannot might drop out due to illness, travel restrictions or other reasons.
A particular issue for the Austrian LTC system is its significant reliance on live-in migrant carers (personal carers) from the neighbouring Slovak and Czech Republics, but increasingly also from Romania and Bulgaria. Although a number of measures have been taken to mitigate the potential shortfall of mainly migrant carer workers during the COVID-19 crisis, the pandemic has brought to light a number of shortcomings of the Austrian long-term care system. In particular, the model of ‘24-hour care’ and the situation of the personal carers themselves need special attention. Whilst most personal carers have agreed to stay with the person they care for, this might cause new challenges to ensure the workers remain physically and mentally well while away from their family and home. In addition, allowing personal carers to travel from their home country to their place of work has become a challenge.
As government measures are currently being loosened (e.g. 80% of shops are being allowed to reopen) and the system moves to a more normal life, measures to protect vulnerable populations become important. The government has responded with testing strategies for care homes. However, more measures might be needed to ensure protection and continuity of care for those with long-term care needs.