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Being the 'perfect' aged care visitor during COVID-19

It has been a difficult couple of years trying to enter aged care as a visitor. During the height of COVID-19, many people weren't able to visit an older loved one in an aged care facility because of coronavirus concerns.

Last updated: September 3rd 2021
Older woman is visited by her grandson in aged care home
Aged care visitors need to be more mindful about their own health and where they have been before entering a nursing home. [Source: Shutterstock]

Key points:

  • Be up to date with your State or Territory aged care visitor restrictions

  • Ask your aged care provider if they have any additional requirements in place to keep their residents safe

  • If you can't go into an aged care facility, ask the nursing home to assist with an alternative option where you can remain in contact with your older loved one

Now with new standards to keep residents connected with their families, most aged care facilities are open to visitors again. However, providers still work hard to keep both their residents and staff healthy and safe, which means there may be some extra rules and procedures in place.

So what should you be aware of when visiting an aged care home so you can be the perfect visitor?

Aged Care Industry Code

The aged care sector responded to initial facility lockdowns by developing the Industry Code for Visiting Residential Aged Care Homes during COVID-19. This Code was spearheaded by consumer advocacy group Council on the Ageing (COTA) Australia and supported by 13 industry peak bodies.

While most aged care facilities were doing the right thing by trying to protect their residents during the height of COVID-19, there were some aged care facilities completely barring visitors from entering their homes even though there was no COVID-19 in their immediate area or State/Territory.

The point of the Code was to set expected standards for aged care providers, support them to keep older residents safe, and make sure the rights of people in aged care to see visitors were upheld.

In the Code, it outlines how aged care providers should be supporting their residents to receive visitors while remaining safe from COVID-19.

While the Code isn't legislated, it does fit within the regulatory framework that the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission follows. The Commission recognises the Code and its capacity to allow visitors to still see their families and will consider its application when investigating if a provider is meeting its requirements to meet the needs of their residents.

Know your local COVID-19 restrictions

With the Delta strain of COVID-19 sweeping through aged care facilities along the East Coast, you should be across restrictions that are in place in your area.

If COVID-19 is rampant in the community area, then you will likely see your older loved ones nursing homes reducing the amount of people that can enter the facility.

Similarly, if you are from a Delta hotspot, you will likely not be allowed inside any aged care facility.

If a facility becomes at risk of COVID-19, either because of a COVID-19 outbreak in the facility or a nearby cluster, they may put in place more restrictive measures to protect their residents.

The COVID-19 Escalation Tiers And Aged Care Provider Responses highlights visitor restrictions that align with Principle 7 of the Aged Care Industry Code, this includes visitations only for social support circumstances.

If you have an older person receiving palliative care in aged care, you will still be able to see them on an ongoing basis. The aged care facility will make decisions around the number of visitors at one time, the length of the stay, the frequency, and the nature of the revisits. These decisions by the provider should be compassionate and meet the needs of the person who is dying so they have dignity and comfort.

In this instance, contact your aged care provider about other ways you can talk to your older loved one, like through telehealth services or assisted video calls.

Before entering aged care

If you are feeling unwell or have any COVID-19 like symptoms, you should not visit an aged care facility. No matter how severe or how mild the symptoms are. These symptoms include a fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, or shortness of breath.

This is a precaution you need to follow, as no matter how safe you may be, you are entering a place where people are vulnerable.

Other national restrictions on entering aged care include if you have been overseas in the last 14 days, if you have been in contact with anyone who has had COVID in the last 14 days, and if you are meant to be isolating or in quarantine.

The most recent change since the beginning of COVID-19 is the introduction of mandatory flu vaccinations for anyone entering aged care. You have to bring proof to the facility to show you have been vaccinated with the most up to date flu vaccination.

Additionally, each State and Territory may have their own nursing home requirements.

For instance, South Australia is allowing two people to visit a person in aged care per day if the facility has a total facility vaccination rate under 70 percent. If facilities have over 70 percent, there is no cap on visitors.

Whereas, in Victoria, you can only enter aged care if you are providing care or support to a resident for their emotional or physical wellbeing, or if you are a nominated person for a resident with dementia.

Visit your State or Territory Health Department website for more information or contact your aged care provider directly for what their current limitations or requirements are to enter.

Entering aged care

If you don't fit the above hotspot criteria, then you should be free to enter a nursing home to see your older loved one.

When attending an aged care facility, be mindful and respectful of the protocols in place - they are there for a reason.

Aged care facilities will be following really strict guidelines when accepting visitors, as it can be easy for a person to bring COVID-19 into an aged care home with them and pass it on to other residents.

So when you enter an aged care facility you will need to follow their screening process, which includes washing your hands before and after visiting a resident in their room, and keeping at least 1.5 metre distance from residents.

As it is mandatory to have a flu vaccination to enter age care, you will need to show proof that you have had your flu vax. This could be through a statement from your doctor, an immunisation statement on your Medicare account, through the Medicare mobile app, or through a flu vaccination card.

While inside aged care

When you are inside the facility, you should be mindful of older residents and try to avoid engaging with people unless necessary.

If you are bringing your children with you to see their grandparents, make sure you keep an eye on them at all times so they don't wander off or touch lots of surfaces.

Keep your hand hygiene up by washing your hands and utilising hand sanitizer around the facility.

The staff at the facility will tell you of any other requirements you may have to follow while inside their home.

Remember, this is a home for not only your older loved one but for the older loved ones of other families as well so be sure to respect the safety requirements inside the aged care home.

Most States and Territories require a mask to be worn in high risk settings like aged care, so you may need to wear a mask while visiting your older loved one.

Call your aged care facility before visiting to see if they have any other specific safety protocols in place.

If you can't enter

You may need to use other means of communicating with your older loved one if you can't enter an aged care facility.

This could be through phone or video calls, utilising social media apps, sending letters or postcards, or using photo share apps to provide the older person with photos, artwork or home videos.

Read our handy guide of how to stay connected through video calls on the Aged Care Guide.

How has your older loved one's aged care provider handled COVID-19? Tell us in the comments below.

Related content:

How to use video calls to stay connected
Mental health services for older people in aged care
The role of advocacy in aged care


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