Currently, the aged care sector is doing public consultations to prepare the draft Visitor Access Code. Once finalised and adopted, it will provide nationally recognised regulations around what aged care providers can implement in terms of protecting their residents against COVID-19 and explains the rights of families, friends and carers.
While that is under evaluation, there are still some aged care providers who limit visitors, or are completely restricting access to residents, because they believe this is the best course of action to protect the older people they care for and their workforce.
Many advocacy organisations have been dealing with a large influx of calls and emails around severe visitor restrictions.
So what can you do if you want to see your older loved one in aged care but can't get access?
Cooperation and compromise is key
If your provider has strict provisions in place, it's important to talk with the facility manager around why the restrictions have been implemented and what you can do to still visit without compromising the safety in aged care.
There may be very valid reasons behind lockdowns or severe visitor restrictions. For example, a community outbreak in the vicinity of the aged care home or a COVID outbreak in the actual facility.
In both instances, aged care facilities are allowed to shut their doors to visitors, especially if there is a confirmed case of COVID in a nursing home.
However, many providers should be applying their restrictions with compassion and understanding to worried families and friends and in the best interest of their residents.
Carolanne Barkla, Chief Executive Officer of Aged Rights Advocacy Service (ARAS) in Adelaide, says the community does need to understand the reasoning behind some of the restrictions, but also be aware of if their local facility has implemented too much.
"I do want to acknowledge that many aged care providers are trying the very best they can during very difficult circumstances and it is a pandemic and they are endeavouring to protect older people and provide care. However, we remain very concerned about older people not being able to see their family and friends and how that is impacting on their wellbeing during this process," says Ms Barkla.
"We are also really mindful of the fact that we are now in a situation where there is little COVID spread within Australia generally and there is direction. And that direction has been in place since the beginning of this emergency.
"So it is really hard to understand why [visitors] may not be allowed when particular facilities don't have any COVID cases or the general community around that area doesn't have any COVID cases and the family seeking to enter is only one person."
Ms Barkla adds that most people are willing to abide by strict rules when visiting, including having no contact with a COVID-19 case, no COVID-19 symptoms, are willing to be temperature tested, will undertake hand hygiene, are willing to wear any protective mechanisms or apparel, and will undertake a visit in a residents room or otherwise specified.
However it has also been highlighted that some residents don't want to be visited during this stressful time out of concern for their own or others safety and ARAS believes that if this is the case, then people need to respect the wishes of their older loved ones.
A balanced approach is required by all involved so everyone can reach the desired outcome with visitations.
Advice and advocacy
If your provider still is implementing tougher restrictions without a clear reason, the next best option would be to contact an advocacy organisation for help.
The Older Persons Advocacy Network can provide support and has trained advocates taking calls. OPAN can be contacted on 1800 700 600.
Additionally, a Government COVID-19 hotline was launched for coronavirus related information, updates and advocacy advice. Contact the hotline on 1800 171 866.
These organisations can advocate on your behalf and may be able to get you a different outcome from when you tried to work with the provider.
Your advocate will make sure to find out what your desired outcome could be, whether that is visiting in the facility or seeing your older loved one through a window, and attempt to facilitate this with your provider.
Ms Barkla says, "I would be encouraging people to contact directly with an advocate who can assist people with any of those issues because they are of concern. But as I said, we also need to take a very nuanced approach because as you can appreciate, if there is a particular outbreak in a particular facility or location, then that is subject to infection control guidelines and public health direction.
"So that is why it is important to understand what is going on locally and then look at the circumstances, do those circumstances fit within the State, [Territory or Federal] exemptions."
Ms Barkla also adds that it's especially important to seek help if you have a relative with dementia that may be anxious from not seeing you or if it involves end of life care.
For more information about the draft Visitor Access Code, head to the Council of the Ageing Website. There is also a webinar on Wednesday, 6 May, which will be accepting feedback about the suggested Code.
For more information about the coronavirus, visit the Aged Care Guide COVID-19 update page.
Do you have any questions about the coronavirus that you want answered? Tell us in the comments below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.