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Peak bodies asking for enhanced aged care visitation protections

Aged care peak bodies and organisations have come together to petition the Government for nationally consistent guidelines that balances strong infection control with good social, mental health and spiritual wellness support to assist providers during COVID-19.

Peak bodies are asking for nationally consistent guidelines for aged care facilities and the general public to follow when it comes to nursing homes. [Source: Shutterstock]

The peak bodies involved in this Government request are Aged & Community Services Australia (ACSA), Aged Care Guild, Anglicare Australia, Baptist Care Australia, Catholic Health Australia, Leading Age Services Australia (LASA), and UnitingCare Australia. 

During a national webinar, nearly 1,000 aged care providers and their representatives endorsed requests for support, which was put to the Minister for Aged Care and Older Australians, Richard Colbeck, and to the Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Brendan Murphy, who joined the webinar.

The aged care industry also had to tell the Minister and the CMO that it is incorrect to say the sector is keeping residents isolated, under lock and key in their rooms, nor are aged care facilities "secret places", as Prime Minister Scott Morrison suggested in a public address last week.

Peak bodies say that while everyone agrees that public safety is paramount during the COVID-19 pandemic, aged care providers are facing difficult decisions around enhancing resident protections on visitation to reduce the likelihood of vulnerable older people in aged care being exposed to the coronavirus.

Additionally, a members report survey found that a majority of families do support the restricted visitations to nursing homes.

In a joint statement, peak bodies say, "These difficult decisions have not been made lightly and have the support of the majority of residents and their families.

"At the same time, we are deeply saddened and concerned by the rising loss of lives in Australian residential care homes where COVID-19 outbreaks have occurred. 

"We are totally committed to working with families, communities and governments to keep aged care residents and our dedicated workforce protected from COVID-19."

The peak bodies want to have an open dialogue with the Federal Government which will acknowledge the difficulties the aged care industry face and result in nationally consistent guidelines.

In turn, the peak bodies believe it will be able to create an aged care system that Australia can be proud of, where the industry is committed to coronavirus infection prevention and stop residential care outbreaks that are being seen overseas.

Aged care providers are asking for:

  • Government to revise their statement regarding enhanced resident protections that confirms that in some cases additional restrictions beyond the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) guidance are necessary

  • The rapid escalation and resolution of case-by-case issues reported by families, residents or advocates, plus a process of guidance sharing for providers on leading practice

  • Timely response to the requested Aged Care Rescue Package that was put to the Government a few weeks ago to meet the increased cost of taking care of older Australians and protecting them from the coronavirus.

LASA Chief Executive Officer, Sean Rooney, says, "When you look at the protection record across Australia, the aged care sector should be commended and praised for its tireless work to keep vulnerable residents and staff safe. 

"The Minister and the Chief Medical Officer emphasised this to more than 900 providers during their recent national webinar. 

"It is disappointing to hear outright and implied criticisms of aged care when the staff and the overall sector have achieved so much, even though well over 50 percent of providers were losing money before this crisis hit. This shows the calibre of care across our nation.

"It is critical that governments have the back of aged care. We need clarification on enhanced resident protections and a committed, collegiate approach. Fortunately, the Minister and the CMO have expressed their support for this and we will work together towards representing the best interests of older Australians and the aged care sector. 

"We encourage authorities to engage directly with the aged care industry. LASA has been in daily contact with the Government and the Department of Health, talking directly with the Minister and senior medical officers many times a week and we are proud to have this strong relationship, on behalf of our Members and providers."

The industry believes the pressures on aged care workers will increase due to the major costs of controls and resources that are required to protect aged care residents and to allow the safe access for visitors, but there has been little additional support from the Government to reach this goal.

Funding that has so far been provided equates to an average of $2 per resident per day, which is not enough for aged care providers to continue keeping the coronavirus out of nursing homes.

The funding, $2 a day per resident, also does not cover Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), cleaning and sanitation, backfilling staff who have to isolate, and technology and social distancing measures.

Misinformation about community support

Peak bodies also addressed that there is misinformation being spread around about visitations, stating that there is communication with families, visitors at a distance and extension social media connections being implemented.

Their joint statement says, "It does a disservice to the hundreds of thousands of dedicated aged care staff, working on the frontline and putting their own health at risk, as they work tirelessly to keep residents safe and happy.

"Our members report local surveys showing the vast majority of families support the current approach to restricted visitations by their aged care homes.

"We also note considerable community concern about potentially unidentified cases and the possibility of asymptomatic cases infecting aged care homes, as we have seen overseas and in Australia."

Some providers who implemented enhanced residents protections are asking their resident's families to minimise their visits.

Additionally, the peak bodies say that visitation requests for compassionate reasons are being facilitated carefully and in consultation with residents and families.

For more information about the coronavirus, visit the Aged Care Guide's COVID-19 update page. 

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