Aged care provider HammondCare has trained more than 1,300 family members to safely visit their loved ones in care homes since the program launched 15 months ago.
Up to 80 people a week are completing the Partnering in Care Program, which aims to provide family members with skills to minimise the risk of COVID-19 transmission when visiting a loved one.
The training program, which launched in July 2020, includes a one-hour online component plus one-hour of face-to-face training, which is being delivered via video conferencing technology due to the current outbreak.
It teaches participants about safe hygiene and infection control practices including how to correctly wear personal protective equipment.
HammondCare chief operating and risk officer Angela Raguz said the program was designed after the provider strategically decided against locking visitors out of its services.
“In the initial phases, we did support visitors to continue to come in. We set up a concierge process, we set up screening, and we abided by all of the restrictions. But we thought in the longer term, there’s going to be more and more community transmission.
“We knew there was going to be the need for central caring partners to be able to continue to visit and what we needed to be able to do was support people to be able to continue to visit safely,” Ms Raguz told Australian Ageing Agenda.
The program teaches families about things they need to be aware of when they are visiting a loved one in an aged care environment, she said.
“That means even in times of community transmission, partners in care are still able to visit and visit safely, Ms Raguz said.
The program provides visitors with a sense of joint responsibility to keep residents safe as well as equip them with transferrable skills for everyday life, she said.
It has also made staff members feel more comfortable about visitors, Ms Raguz said.
“It meant that people’s fear levels were reduced because they did feel as though it wasn’t just lay people with zero infection control knowledge able to visit at their will. It just provided a little bit more structure.”
Feedback from residents and families have also been positive, she said.
“The people that have done the course have felt as though it’s reinforced for them what they might have either already known or what they thought they knew. Other people have said they learned quite a lot out of the program itself,” she said.
For Tina Weatherley, the program has meant she can continue making essential visits to her mother, Concetta Gato, 93, a resident of HammondCare’s Harding cottages in Hammondville.
“The training has been great because it has enabled me to continue to see my mum as an essential care provider at a time when I know many others with family in care can’t,” Ms Weatherly said.
The training program has been shared with other aged care providers and the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission and is something all aged care providers could offer to support families to continue visiting their loved ones, Ms Raguz said.
“I can’t see why it wouldn’t be something picked up more broadly,” she said.
Main image: Tina Weatherley and her mother Concetta Gato