Aged care peak body Aged and Community Services Australia is urging the Federal Government to release a roadmap for residential aged care homes in lockdown to safely open their facilities to visitors.
Aged care homes in New South Wales and Victoria have again been subject to restrictions recently for several months that have put a halt to in-person visitors.
Aged care homes are used to shutting down for a couple of weeks or a month at most if there is a flu or gastro outbreak, but these lengthy lockdowns are much more detrimental, said ACSA CEO Paul Sadler.
“This long-term shutdown that we’re experiencing with COVID is having an impact on residents in terms of their mental health and wellbeing, but it’s also having an impact on families and close friends,” Mr Sadler told Australian Ageing Agenda.
The aged care sector needs clarity from the government about plans to open up, Mr Sadler said.
“Some sort of roadmap will be a relief to everybody in aged care, but particularly for residents,” he said.
“Our members have been making as much effort as they humanly can to keep people in touch with families” through technology, visiting pods and window visits.
“But … in the current environment we can’t do enough to keep people connected, so we need a roadmap that safely allows families and friends back into aged care and allows residents to go safely out,” Mr Sadler said.
He says it is possible to “begin the move to safely reopening” with some additional measures.
“There is risk still that people can be double vaccinated yet still be carrying the disease. So, we believe that you need to look at supplementary protection mechanisms like rapid antigen tests,” he said.
The NSW and Victorian governments have shared their roadmaps to reopening the state from lockdown, but have not specified what that means for the residential aged care sector.
Consumer peak body COTA Australia chief executive Ian Yates criticised the state governments for leaving out aged care from the reopening plan, as reported in The Guardian.
Mr Sadler said he agreed.
“It’s actually unconscionable to leave aged care out. You can’t have an opening up plan and leave aged care residents and their families completely out of the picture,” Mr Sadler said.
ACSA has been speaking with Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services Richard Colbeck and chief advisors to Minister for Health and Aged Care Greg Hunt about the need to reopen aged care homes to visitors.
“Minister Colbeck made this comment last week that there has been a request to the aged care advisory group to the AHPPC [Australian Health Protection Principal Committee] for advice eventually to go through the National Cabinet on how to have an approach to reopening for aged care.
“It’s not that the government, federal and state, aren’t thinking about it. But they actually have to tell everybody very soon what that plan actually is,” Mr Sadler said.
“We just need some clarity from the authorities about which way they plan to go on this,” he said.
AAA has contacted Mr Colbeck about a plan to open aged care homes to visitors.
AAA understands the guidelines are under review and more information is expected later in the week.
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