Aged care consumer and provider peaks are seeking input on a new visitor code designed to help achieve a nationally consistent policy for families and friends wanting to visit aged care residents during the coronavirus pandemic.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the release of the draft Aged Care Visitor Access Code and seven-day consultation on Friday along with a $205 million funding package for facilities to cover extra costs related to coronavirus.

The code aims to apply a compassionate and consistent visitor policy across facilities that both minimises the risk of COVID-19 transmission and provides innovative on-site visiting to support the mental health of aged care residents.

The draft code, which has been designed by national provider and consumer organisations, proposes 12 key principles to ensure there is safe and regular communication between residents and their loved ones during the coronavirus pandemic.

It comes after the seven provider organisations called on the government to work with the sector to agree on nationally consistent guidelines that balance the need for infection control and mental health and wellness support (read more here).

The principles include that providers:

  • actively facilitate connections between residents and their loved ones consistent with the Charter of Aged Care Rights
  • apply the Aged Care Quality Standards and Charter of Aged Care Rights at all times
  • only implement a full lockdown when there is an outbreak of COVID-19 onsite
  • allow residents to continue to use common spaces within the facility including outdoors if no outbreak
  • vary local responses to COVID-19 as risks change in the local community.

The code also outlines the rights and responsibilities of both aged care providers and the family members, relatives and friends wishing to visit residents.

Minister for Aged Care Richard Colbeck said the draft code reflects concerns aged care stakeholders raised with him about the visitor restrictions recommended by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC).

Richard Colbeck

“Importantly, it not only contemplates visitation for those who are at end of life, which was something that the AHPPC was concerned about, those in palliation, but also those who have had a long history of visitation working with their loved ones, going in for meals, helping the aged care facility to support their relatives,” Mr Colbeck said at Friday’s press conference.

He commended stakeholders for developing the code so quickly.

Peaks welcome code

Leading Age Services Australia CEO Sean Rooney said the visitor code would help deliver great outcomes for aged care residents, families, staff, and providers.

Sean Rooney

“We have been working very diligently in a challenging situation, where we need to get the balance right in delivering good-quality compassionate care whilst also ensuring that every endeavour and every protection is in place to keep people safe from coronavirus,” Mr Rooney told Australian Ageing Agenda.

“This is a clear set of guidelines and ground rules, so where providers have put in place protections that are above the national guidance, this will enable them to move forward with confidence and be able to resolve concerns that residents or families may have about visitation access,” he said.

Aged and Community Services Australia CEO Patricia Sparrow the release of the draft code was a good start but more was needed.

Patricia Sparrow

“Providers have been focussed on keeping people in residential care well. We provide aged care because we care. The consultation on the code will be important to ensure it strikes the right balance of protection and compassionate visitation,” she said.

“The announcement hasn’t tackled the support industry has sought for home care and technological solutions to keep people well connected with friends and family,” Ms Sparrow said.

Dr Tony Bartone

Australian Medical Association president Dr Tony Bartone called for residents to receive their two visitors per day and for COVID testing of all staff and residents when a positive case is detected in a facility.

“The AMA supports the Government policy of allowing two visitors per day per resident and calls for the new Code of Conduct for providers being developed to ensure that this is enabled,” Dr Bartone said.

“We support testing of asymptomatic staff and residents in the aged care homes if there has been a single positive case in the facilities,” he said.

Claerwen Little

“We support testing of asymptomatic staff and residents in the aged care homes if there has been a single positive case in the facilities,” he said.

UnitingCare Australia national director Claerwen Little welcomed the opportunity to continue working with government, providers, workers, families and residents in the fight against coronavirus.

“Collectively we can get to the other side and be all together, once again,” Ms Little said.

The draft code has been endorsed by provider peaks Aged & Community Services Australia, Aged Care Guild, Anglicare Australia, Baptist Care Australia, Catholic Health Australia, Leading Age Services Australia, and UnitingCare Australia and consumer advocates Carers Australia, Council on the Ageing Australia, Dementia Australia, National Seniors Australia and the Older Persons Advocacy Network.

The consultation on the draft code closes at 3pm on Thursday 7 May ahead of being finalised by Monday 11 May.

Aged care providers and other industry stakeholders can send their feedback to visitoraccesscode@agedservices.asn.au while consumers and carers should send comments to cota@cota.org.au.

Access the draft Aged Care Visitor Access Code here

Consultation webinar

Consumer advocates OPAN, COTA Australia, Dementia Australia and National Seniors Australia are holding a webinar to consult on the draft of the Aged Care Visitor Access Code.

The webinar will be held on Wednesday 6 May. Register for the webinar here.

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