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The nurse bringing joy to the elderly during COVID-19

Jarrod Wolhuter (left) has been providing haircuts and shaves to patients in aged care facilities for the past two years. Photo: LinkedIn/Jarrod Wolhuter.

By DANIEL LO SURDO

For Jarrod Wolhuter, the onset of the COVID-19 formed an unlikely intersection between his two main passions: nursing and barbering. 

One year before the pandemic began, Wolhuter, a 37-year-old Kingsford resident, started his barbering business after noticing the benefits of a hot towel shave and a nice haircut for patients in aged care facilities. He immediately enrolled in a barbering course at his nearest TAFE before earning his certificate and starting his business in the early months of 2020. 

“I thought if I could apply that to patients in aged care, it would be nice for them to participate in, and I found when I did that, it benefitted them a lot,” Wolhuter tells City Hub

“They became a lot more relaxed, a lot more settled, they actually became quite helpful with the movements around their head … I thought it was really remarkable.” 

Finding Consistency

Wolhuter found considerable success with patients affected by dementia, who were unusually calm while he operated. 

“In the mornings, they may be a bit unsettled or agitated or restless, but I found when I put the hot towel on their face it almost acted like something that took them back to their younger days when they would attend barber shops for that type of service,” he says. 

While Wolhuter found avenues to continue his barbering, he struggled to keep a consistent pattern of business while complying with the infection control rules present in aged care facilities and the community. 

To combat the restrictions and serve his community, Wolhuter started providing subsidised haircuts out of his garage, where he created a makeshift barbershop to continue his business during the first lockdown. He also visited the Addison Road Community Centre in Marrickville, where he used both his nursing and barbering skills to assist with visitor needs. 

“It’s been a really difficult two years because of those infection control rules,” Wolhuter says. 

“Many of the residents have been locked down for about 18 months, with a little bit of reprieve here and there, but a lot of them have gone without social interaction with their friends and families for a long time, so if I can get into aged care facilities now at this moment I think it would be a great service for the male residents especially … so to be able to provide that service and do it safely as a registered nurse, now is the time that it should be embraced.” 

During the two major Sydney lockdowns, Wolhuter was forced to put his barbering business on hold, with his work in the health sector taking precedence. While he still considers nursing as his “bread and butter”, he hopes that his new business can finally gather some momentum in the new year.

“I’m an emergency department nurse as my main discipline, so each time there’s been a lockdown, I’ve put the barbering side of things on hold and have been working on the frontline, I’ve been working in the intensive care unit and emergency department and the fever clinics and the quarantine and vaccination projects as well,” Wolhuter says. 

“In terms of nursing it’s been exceptionally busy, however, the barbering was something I felt so strongly about and was so passionate about that it was actually a nice reprieve away from things.” 

While operating out of his garage in the first lockdown, Wolhuter asked customers to “pay what you can afford” for a haircut, or provide his service free of charge where necessary. He says that it was a good social outlet that he used before “we knew what we were dealing with” and thought it was equally beneficial for the community. 

COVID Struggles

Restrictions imposed in the Delta lockdown prevented Wolhuter from replicating his setup from last year but has not dampened his spirit to continue his barbering work in the aged care sector. 

The severity of illness from COVID-19 in elderly people marked the aged care sector as one of the hardest-hit areas of Australian society throughout the past 18 months. During the pandemic, most aged care facilities have been restricted or excluded from guests, forcing many elderly Australians to be isolated from their family and friends during this period. 

As of writing, NSW Health has advised aged care facilities that residents are permitted to have two fully vaccinated visitors aged 12 years and older, plus two children aged under 12 years per day. Fully vaccinated visitors must have received a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccination at least 14 days prior to their visit. 

Residents are allowed to leave the facility for family gatherings or other reasons but must abide by the current public health orders. Facilities are required to issue residents with adequate protective equipment and mask-wearing and infection control advice. 

All staff in facilities, including nurses, are required to wear a surgical mask while in the facility. There are strict provisions in place for staff entry into aged care facilities, with frontline workers required to isolate from the aged care facility if they are experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19 or have had any trace or contact with a positive case.  

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