As disability support providers, our services are deemed essential during the COVID-19 crisis. Our staff are on the ‘front line’ supporting customers with disability to understand, accept and adapt to the changes happening all around them.

CHESS Connect NDIS Outreach Support Worker and qualified Peer Worker Dominique has shared her experiences as she navigates her work-day on the front line during COVID-19.

All essential workers during these unprecedented times will be able to relate to Dominique’s journey. We wanted to share her thoughts with you as they provide us with a thought provoking perspective on the significant work our front line staff are undertaking.

Notes from Orbit: working on the front line during COVID-19

Working the front lines as outreach support workers is different to working from home.

I can imagine staff working from home may feel more isolated than we do, because they’re more used to being surrounded by a physical team.

There is something comforting, strengthening in being part of a team. I imagine ZOOM meetings can only make up for that to a degree.

For us support workers, we are more accustomed to being part of a virtual team.

We know, with certainty, that if we text, email or phone our shift coordinators, that ‘ground control’ will respond.

That’s what allows us to be out there… orbiting around planet CHESS Connect and doing our job as support workers for people with disability and mental ill health.

Having said that, there are additional burdens we carry at this time that no one can share.

We must, without fail, treat each customer as if we already have COVID-19 and/or they do. It’s a strange, duplicitous mindset for us.

We hold those whom we support at a distance, so that we can continue to be there for them.

Leaving the sanctuary of their homes – when necessary – is fraught with greatly increased risk.

Some customers understand how crucial social distancing is…I wear gloves for one customer and we sit about 3 metres apart…while others, unfortunately, want to buy a kebab, and don’t see why they can’t perch on an art installation in the shopping centre to eat.

Yet, another, is not able to cognitively apply the concept of social distancing. I chant aloud “arm’s length”, “let’s give this person space” etc as I steer them verbally from point A to B.

When queuing for coffee, I point to stars drawn on the pavement. “How about you’re Marilyn Munro, and that’s your Hollywood star… And, I’ll be Audrey Hepburn on this star.”

I carry disinfectant. Everywhere. My car has never been so clean. Before, and after, each customer, we follow our infection control ritual.

Unlike hand-washing, there is no tune. Only an ingrained, now automated, routine.

Door handles exterior, interior door handles and panels, all buttons including locking, windows, door opening. Seatbelts, seats, headrests.

My steering wheel, gearstick, park brake, lights, wipers, aircon, audio, hazards, indicators, my seat belt, door as above, cup holder…My phone, keys, wallet, pen, water bottle etc.

And, at the end of the day, when my shifts are over, and I drive into my driveway – I do this all again, a final time. This last ritual is for my family.

Shoes are left outside. Laundry put on. Shower. Now I can be present – physically and emotionally for those I must also protect.

Every working day, before rising, I use my phone to complete my CHESS Connect staff check-in.

I like that it asks me what I’m up to today… where I’m working, what hours.

This is my virtual equivalent of a morning greeting with colleagues in an office!

The health screen is much more serious.

I self-assess for physical symptoms. Hoping they are absent because – aside from other obvious reasons – I don’t want this to be the day I can no longer support my customers.

It’s also a mental rite.

It’s me agreeing to whatever I need to do to work safely and securely in this high-risk environment.

I’m not afraid. I have a radiologist friend in a major hospital overseas. She x-rays the lungs of COVID-19 positive patients all day.

She has the right to be afraid. But she works without fail. It gives me courage.

Yes, I am hyper-vigilant. I know my amygdala is working hard. It needs to. I need my threat-detection system working full-steam.

Every shift, I am like a WHS inspector… scanning for hazards, identifying risk, using the CHESS Connect procedures to manage that risk.

I feel as protected as I will ever be. And I know ground control has my back!

But. It makes me very tired. Hyper-vigilance has a physical cost.

I consume more coffee, and sugar in a day than usual. I don’t really like eating when I’m out these days, so, I tend to skip meals. I try to drink more water.

But, my mental health is good. I do have supports. I use them. I know there are people, friends and services I can use.

I am on my own personal recovery journey, so, I need to be disciplined. I love my work, and know what I must do to stay in good mental shape and continue to support my community.

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Meet the Author

About Dominique White
Dom White is a NDIS Outreach Support Worker. A qualified Peer Worker, she is passionate about supporting people to live a life in recovery