Facilities and providers providing long-term care in Iceland are supervised and monitored by the Directorate of Health and in terms of preparedness for influenza and epidemics these services fall within the same plans and schemes as health care institutions in general. Whether provided publicly or privately, managers and staff receive the same sort of guidelines, advice, information and access to medical supplies under the supervision of the country´s Chief Epidemiologist as all health care institutions. The Directorate of Health has pulled together a reserve and backup team of trained healthcare professionals to provide health and social care as part of the COVID-19 response. These professionals are also available for assistance in long-term care facilities where and when needed during the COVID-19 crisis. For example, in one case in which there was an outbreak in a nursing home, the staff was almost immediately quarantined and a team of reserve health care workers in the Capital Region was airlifted from the Capital up north to replace the group of local staff while tested and in quarantine.
Measures have been taken temporarily to give priority to COVID-19 patients in the health care system but still ensuring essential care (see section 2.1). As temporary, this priority does not entail change of policy, rather in effect the measures employed illustrate existing protocols and patient pathways in the system with regards to responses to pandemics and spread of communicable diseases due to the risk involved and the urgency to respond quickly and adequately to tackle it.
Minister of Social Affairs and Children, the Minister of Transport and Local Government and the Chairman of the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities signed a statement of cooperation on measures to be taken in order to address the challenges faced by state institutions, social services and others rendering services to vulnerable groups due to COVID-19. The statement launches a comprehensive collaboration between the state, local authorities, professional bodies and stakeholders around the country, in order to ensure safety and necessary services, such as welfare and domestic social care services for those who need daily or regular assistance, including people with disabilities, the elderly and children and families. A response team to serve vulnerable groups has also been established in collaboration with the Commissioner of the Icelandic Police’s Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management. The team systematically works to reduce the interruption of social services, in close collaboration with those who protect the interests of and/or serve vulnerable groups. Moreover, it has been decided to follow the example of the health-care authorities and reserve team. A special registration form has been opened at the website of the Ministry of Social Affairs.
There have been some concerns that non-COVID-19 patients are not getting the services they need in time because of the priority given to prepare and enable the system to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. This has frequently been addressed by the emergency team, especially the Medical Director of Health, at the team´s daily press conferences broadcasted live on radio and TV. People are called not to hesitate to contact their primary care centres or medical doctors. Separate hours have been designated in health care centres to keep non- COVID-19 and potentially COVID-19 patients apart. Website chats, helplines and alternative communication channels are promoted, i.e. telemedicine which already had been in use prior to the pandemic but has now been more extensively and systematically employed.
The Social Work Department at the University of Iceland together with the Reykjavik Welfare Department, in which many students of social work get their training, made a collective agreement in which students of social work voluntarily joined forces with a team of (tele)friends which actively make phone calls to individuals who belong to vulnerable groups so as to provide contact, reduce social isolation and anxiety, associated with the social restrictions as well as the outbreak of COVID-19 .
DoH. Status Report, DCPEM and CE. March 18th 2020 https://www.landlaeknir.is/servlet/file/store93/item39956/18032020-COVID19_Status%20Report_.pdf