Acknowledging a job well done

A message from Achieve Australia CEO Jo-Anne Hewitt

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The Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and Minister for Government Services Mr Bill Shorten released an open letter of praise for all those working in the disability services sector.  

Mr Shorten commended the way disability services staff supported people with disability over the most intense 2 and a half years of the COVID-19 pandemic when people with disability felt particularly vulnerable.  

We share Minister Shorten’s praise and thanks for our staff with all the people we support across our services in Sydney and the Northern Rivers of NSW.  

Not only were people with disability particularly susceptible to the virus, but they also had to cope with a great deal of change and uncertainty including about where and when they could receive the COVID-19 vaccine.    

When COVID first hit Australia’s shores in January 2020, there was no play book for how to work to keep the people we support and staff safe while also safeguarding everyone’s mental health and general wellbeing. 

At Achieve Australia, all ideas were welcomed as the team rapidly acquired the right equipment and developed policies and procedures, employee training, communication strategies and much more to meet the COVID-19 challenge.  

I was particularly proud of the wonderful and imaginative ways our team supported people. Team members continually found ways to ensure the people we support stayed connected to loved ones and the outside world. This included an ever-changing program of activities we delivered in many people’s homes. Our frontline staff also facilitated regular catch ups between the people we support and their families and friends via video chat, email, and phone calls.  

It was a tough time for our staff as they walked the line between keeping the people we support as safe as possible from COVID infection while also keeping their spirits up, particularly during the long periods of lockdown. And all the while wearing masks, PPE, gloves and more. 

We grew as individuals and as an organisation during this time and acquired a wealth of knowledge that we put to good use to reassure the people we support and keep them as safe as possible but also to help our sector. 

Achieve Australia was proud to be selected to join an Australian Government panel to help the disability services sector get through this tough time with advice and sharing resources and real-life case studies of what was working. 

The team got on board when I directed all staff to be vaccinated ahead of government mandates and later to get a booster shot. Our staff also regularly underwent COVID testing and training. The team across our services in Sydney and the Northern Rivers of NSW really stepped up and I, like Minister Shorten, am full of praise for their efforts.  

Of course, none of this would have been possible without the smiles, resilience, and patience of the incredible people we support working with us every step of the way. I extend my praise and thanks to every person we support as well as their families and carers. 

As soon as we could, we got back out into the community supporting people to resume all the activities they enjoyed so much before anyone had heard of COVID-19. Risk assessments, thorough planning and staff training helped us to support people to step back into the world whether that involved a simple catch up with friends at a café or visit to stay with family or something bigger. 

A great example was a party we held for a group of ardent NRL fans we support so they could watch the 2021 football grand final at home together with much fanfare. By 2022, we were able to support some of these fans to watch the NRL grand final live at Accor Stadium.   

Accor Stadium was also the venue for a successful party we held for nearly 300 people we support in October 2022 to celebrate Achieve’s 70th anniversary. The party featured a glittering ball room, ABBA tribute band, comedian Tim Ferguson as our MC, and a wonderful dinner. It was many months in the planning but the incredible joy in the room was proof it was all worth it. And everyone stayed safe.  

We remain vigilant about COVID safety but now have an incredible depth of experience and knowledge to draw on.  

Congratulations to everyone at Achieve Australia and to our colleagues in the disability services sector. We did it. Your efforts have been truly amazing.