Visitor guidelines help families support residents

New aged care visitor guidelines aim to protect residents’ mental health and wellbeing.

Aged care consumer peaks and provider organisations – led by the Council on the Ageing Australia – have welcomed national cabinet’s backing of revised visitation guidelines for residential aged care facilities.

Devised to address the mental health toll that enforced lockdowns have had on residents, the guidelines aim to strike an equilibrium between providers heeding public health advice and preserving the emotional support provided to residents by their loved ones.

“They provide for a more balanced response to COVID outbreaks in residential care that should put an end to resident lockdowns,” COTA chief executive Ian Yates writes in an article for the upcoming issue of Australian Ageing Agenda magazine. “This treatment was inhumane, and we were joined in condemning it by many good providers.”

Recommended to national cabinet by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, the updated guidelines have received the thumbs up from sector organisations such as the Older Person’s Advocacy Network, National Seniors, Carers Australia, the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia and Dementia Australia.

“We are pleased the AHPPC has adopted the visitor policy, which will ensure all aged care residents will always have access to at least one visitor who provides essential emotional and physical care, even during an outbreak,” said Dementia Australia CEO Maree McCabe in a statement. “For older Australians receiving aged care – especially those living with dementia – their loved ones are actually providing care when they visit. That care is vital to their physical and emotional health.”

Paul Sadler

Extended lockdowns have become commonplace across the aged care sector. “We’ve had close to 1,300 aged care homes locked down at any one time in the last few weeks,” chief executive of Aged and Community Services Australia Paul Sadler told AAA. That number is now down to below a thousand, “but that’s still close to a third of all aged care homes in Australia,” he said.

While understanding “the need to protect older people from this virulent and dangerous disease,” Mr Sadler said the negative effect lockdowns were having on residents’ mental health and wellbeing was equally as threatening. “If they’re not allowed to see visitors, if they’re not allowed to move around the facility, it can be very damaging for older people.”

The new visitation guidelines reference the industry code first adopted in 2020. They are also supported by all levels of government – federal, state and territory – which means they now have the backing of the eight chief health officers across the country. “We are calling for the states and territories to make sure they implement these new guidelines when they advise their public health units,” said Mr Sadler on how to best enforce the guidelines.

COTA has approached the Federal Government about making the revised visitation provisions compulsory. “Now they have been endorsed by the national cabinet, we will step up that push in parliament,” writes Mr Yates. “It’s time those providers not following the code are called to account.”  

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Tags: ahppc, covid, featured, guidelines, ian yates, mental health, paul sadler, visitors,

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