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​Visitors Access Code open for public consultation

The draft Aged Care Visitors Access Code (VAC) is up for public consultation after the Government announced on Friday they would adopt the VAC developed by aged care peak bodies and consumer groups.

The Visitor Access Code will allow families or friends to still connect with their older loved ones, while not compromising the safety of aged care residents and staff. [Source: Shutterstock]
The Visitor Access Code will allow families or friends to still connect with their older loved ones, while not compromising the safety of aged care residents and staff. [Source: Shutterstock]

This Code intends to solve the dispute between the aged care sector and Government around visitor restrictions to aged care facilities and provide a nationally consistent visitation policy in nursing homes.

While the Government has adopted the draft Code, there hasn't been a lot of information behind what it contains.

The Code will allow families or friends to still connect with their older loved ones, while not compromising the safety of aged care residents and staff.

So far, the draft Visitor Access Code principles are:

  • Providers must facilitate connections between residents and family, families of choice and friends that is consistent with the Charter of Aged Care Rights. This means facilities have to create a solution for onsite visits, this could mean a dedicated room, a resident's room, a visiting window, or something else

  • The Aged Care Quality Standards and Charter of Aged Care Rights must always apply

  • Visitors with cold/flu like symptoms or COVID-19 symptoms are not able to visit aged care

  • Visitors must comply with infection control processes when entering a facility

  • The minimum entry requirement include answering screening questions honestly, demonstration up to date flu vaccination, and complying with hand hygiene, temperature checks, wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) if required, and remaining in a resident's room or designated area

  • There are two types of visitation situations requiring longer in room visits

    • Residents who are dying should be allowed in-person visits from a small number of loved ones on a regular basis. The number of visitors, length, frequency and nature of these visits should reflect what the person needs so they can die with dignity and comfort

    • Visitors who have a history of involvement in providing a resident's care and support, whether daily or a few times a week, must have their visits facilitate to continue providing this carer service

  • All visits, besides above, should be for short period of time and potentially may involve additional procedures like booking systems to manage the total number of visitors at a facility, restrict visits to windows balconies, gates and garden, or other flexible but compassionate approached to visits

  • Families and friends will be able to deliver letters, parcels, gifts, food and communication devices to the facilities

  • If a facility has a COVID-19 outbreak on site, there will be a full lockdown in place

  • Residents can use common areas within the facility if there is no outbreak, however social distancing measures are still in place

  • Providers will take a person centred approach to care, ensuring that chemical restraint is used only as a last resort

  • Residents must be able to continue attending external medical and related services with telehealth utilised when possible

  • All residents should have access to regular electronic communication plus the facility must have regular communication with families

  • Providers are able to respond to COVID-19 risks as they arise in their local community

The public consultation finished on Thursday, 7 May, and peak bodies believe this Code will be finalised by 11 May.

There is an industry webinar on Wednesday, 6 May, for residents, families and friends, which invites older people to provide their thoughts and opinions on the Code.

The peak bodies involved 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, and the consumer advocacy organisations involved are Carers Australia, Council on the Ageing Australia (COTA), Dementia Australia, National Seniors Australia and the Older Persons Advocacy Network (OPAN).

A further $205 million was provided to aged care facilities by the Federal Government to cover PPE and other COVID-19 related costs that are being covered by individual nursing homes.

Baptist Care Australia Executive Director, Nicole Hornsby, says it has been a tough couple weeks for the industry, however, she appreciates the praise for the aged care workforce who have been doing good work to prevent the disaster of outbreaks in aged care facilities.

"Enhanced resident protections need to be in place to prevent COVID entering an aged care home. We do not want our residents to suffer the same fate as those in affected aged care homes overseas," says Ms Hornsby.

"The decision to put these protections in place was not done lightly as we understand more than most the benefit that family and friends bring to our residents. Our homes have put a range of measures in place to balance the need to protect our residents while keeping them connected to family and friends."

UnitingCare Australia reflects the same sentiments, saying it is excited to be involved in the draft VAC process.

"We welcome the opportunity to continue working with Government, providers, workers, families and, most importantly, our much-loved older people in the fight against coronavirus. Collectively we can get to the other side and be all together, once again," says Claerwen Little, National Director of UnitingCare Australia.

Catholic Homes Australia Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Pat Garcia, appreciates the recognition and support they are receiving from Government to create this visitation code for aged care.

"Our members do appreciate the support for the sector shown by the Prime Minister and Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck. They are listening to those people who every day are doing their best to keep their residents and staff safe.

“We look forward to working together with the Government and the consumer peak bodies to finalise the draft Code so we can get the balance right in providing good quality, compassionate care alongside appropriate protections for aged care residents."

Panellists on the webinar include Craig Gear, CEO of OPAN; Ian Yates, CEO of COTA Australia; Maree McCabe, CEO of Dementia Australia, and John McCallum, CEO of National Seniors Australia.

Aged care providers and other industry organisations can provide their feedback on the COTA website or to the Aged Services email.

Or if you are a consumer or carer, you can also provide your comment on the draft to the COTA email address.

For more information about the draft VAC, head to the COTA website, and for updates about COVID-19, visit the Aged Care Guide COVID-19 page.

Do you have any questions about the coronavirus that you want answered? Tell us in the comments below or email journalist@dps.com.au.

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