Aged care providers are pushing back against the Prime Minister’s direction to follow national government recommendations regarding visitors to residential aged care.
Providers question why the advice is softer than for people living in the community, and not what many residents and family members want.
Seven national provider representative organisations united on Monday to call on the government to work with the sector to agree on nationally consistent guidelines that balance the need for strong infection control with strong social, mental health and spiritual wellness support.
The peaks put their concerns and requests to Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians Richard Colbeck and Australia’s chief medical officer Brendan Murphy in a 75 minute webinar on Friday afternoon attended by more than 900 aged care providers and their representatives.
Prior to the webinar Mr Colbeck issued advice on reminding providers that total lock downs of facilities were not supported by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) or the National Cabinet.
It followed calls by Prime Minister Scott Morrison who talked about residents confined to their rooms and told providers not to impose tougher visitor restrictions than those recommended by the AHPPC.
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Mr Colbeck first announced on Friday that aged care providers wishing to have an exemption from the national recommendations should seek authority through the Commonwealth, however he backpedalled in a second announcement about two hours later.
“As the Prime Minister emphasised today we are calling on aged care providers to voluntarily implement the AHPPC guidelines and if this does not occur we will consider moving to mandating these requirements and any exemptions would need to be authorised,” Minister Colbeck said on Friday afternoon.
Providers say focus is on safety
The peaks, which include Aged & Community Services Australia, Aged Care Guild, Anglicare Australia, Baptistcare Australia, Catholic Health Australia, Leading Age Services Australia and UnitingCare Australia, say some providers made extremely difficult decisions for stronger visitor restrictions to reduce the potential exposure of the virus to vulnerable residents.
“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,” they said in a statement.
Providers are appealing for:
- a revised statement from government that confirms additional restrictions beyond AHPPC guidance are necessary for public health and resident safety
- processes for the rapid escalation and resolution of case-by-case issues reported by residents and their advocates and guidance sharing for providers on leading practice
- a timely response to the $1.3 billion rescue package put to the government several weeks ago to meet the increased costs of keeping vulnerable older Australians safe from coronavirus.
Providers call for funding to support visits
Providers say pressures will further intensify from the major costs of controls and resources needed to continue protecting residents and to allow the safe access for visitors recommended by government.
The funding provided equates to an average of $2 per resident per day, which is not enough to cover additional requirements such as PPE, cleaning and sanitation, backfilling staff who have to isolate, technology and social distancing measures, they said.
Providers are adamant the vast majority of families support current approaches to restricted visitations and that visitation requests for compassionate reasons are being carefully facilitated.
Jennifer Dempsey, chief operations officer of Moran Aged Care, said they allowed visits on compassionate grounds for all residents at end of life and the few instances where a resident was distressed.
She said no provider she talked to was blocking such visits or confining residents to their rooms as the Prime Minister said was happening last week.
“I have difficulty believing that it is as widespread as it has been made out,” Ms Dempsey told Australian Ageing Agenda.
Even if a small number are doing it, it is wrong and it shouldn’t happen, she said.
Concerns over conflicting messaging
Ms Dempsey said the biggest concern about the aged care visits was the conflicting messaging including about people over 70.
“One group stays at home with no visitors, people can’t sit on a beach because of social distancing yet we want all these people to come into an aged care home,” Ms Dempsey said.
Ms Dempsey said they have surveyed residents’ families and 90 per cent are happy with the stricter than recommended access arrangements in place.
“We are in that situation where we have some people telling us you need to make it easier for us to come in and the people who are pleading with you to keep them in place,” Ms Dempsey said.
The quality standards say to put the resident is at the centre of everything and a very high proportion of residents are also asking for the restrictions to remain, she said.
Ms Dempsey said they have redone their risk assessment taking into account fewer instances of COVID-19 infections in community and are looking at how to facilitate strictly controlled family visits for their 480 residents across four facilities.
It would require very strict screening via the recommended questions, temperature checks and social distancing, she said.
But there’s no way they can facilitate residents receiving two visitors per day as outlined in the recommendations because of the time need to screen and document visits.
“I am going to have someone full time managing this because of the time to check paperwork, check temperatures, write down everything and escort the visitor to the place.
Similarly, Ms Dempsey said visits in residents’ private rooms were not safe at their sites.
“The way that our facilities are built that is not a good idea because they would have to walk through communal areas and go in lifts and we don’t want to do that.”
She said they are looking to dedicate an area for family visits.
“We all have to work together and try to be very respectful of each other and try and put the resident first.”
AAA sought a response from Mr Colbeck on Friday, Monday and Tuesday.