OPAN says that older Australians in residential aged care facilities need to have consistent access to essential visitors, and the supply chains for Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) need to be improved.
Additionally, OPAN adds that there also needs to be workforce continuity, otherwise older Australians won't be able to receive the safe and high-quality care they need and deserve.
This call from the organisation follows recent reports of disrupted supply lines for RATs and PPE getting to aged care facilities across the country, as well as aged care facilities reporting anywhere between five to 50 percent of their workforce lost due to COVID-19.
Due to the virality of the Omicron variant, OPAN wants to encourage aged care residents and their families to contact the advocacy organisation if they are experiencing any difficulties accessing care or essential visitors because of COVID-19 pressures.
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of OPAN, Craig Gear, says the organisation is ready to assist aged care residents and their family members during this really difficult time.
"The aged care sector, providers and Governments all need to step up to support older Australians, particularly when it comes to ensuring safe access to essential visitors, such as partners in care which can include a family member, loved one, friend or representative," explains Mr Gear.
"Unfortunately, we are seeing significant barriers to these visitations created by a lack of access to RATs and protective equipment – this must be addressed.
"We welcome the strong commitment from Governments that access to these vital tools will improve over the coming weeks, but they must be easily and freely accessible to essential visitors and partners in care across all residential aged care locations.
"After the difficulties of the last two years, everything must be done to support older people getting back to doing what they love with the people they love in a safe environment.
"Additionally, authorities and providers need to think outside the box and put in place workforce contingency plans that ensure continuity and safety."
He adds that if every residential aged care facility can maintain an allowance of one essential visitor per resident in a safe manner, then this will also be able to take the pressure off of the workforce, which is currently stressed, overworked and reduced in number.
The 'Industry Code for Visiting Residential Aged Care Homes during COVID-19' was recently revised on 22 December 2021 to include a stipulation that a resident is always permitted to have at least one visitor regardless of the COVID outbreak status.
The State and Territory Governments and their local public health units are required to uphold the human rights of older Australians, such as visitor access, and OPAN says the onus is on these jurisdictions to provide clear public health guidance and approaches to reduce the impact of repeated isolation due to repeated lockdowns.
OPAN intends to continue working with State and Territory members of its network, aged care providers, and all levels of Government to make sure older Australians are receiving proper support.
"OPAN and our member organisations across the country are working around the clock to resolve issues on the ground," says Mr Gear.
"We are currently managing more than 700 calls per week nationally, which highlights the significant demand out there.
OPAN State and Territory members are also facilitating virtual meetings with residents, families and providers to assist with visitor access and to solve any issues or concerns around care.
If you are an aged care resident or family member and are concerned about the care you are receiving, reach out to a local OPAN advocacy body by calling 1800 700 600 to get assistance in resolving the issue.