The aged care royal commission chair is urging aged care providers, government and the community to be vigilant about the negative impacts of restrictions designed to protect residents from coronavirus.

Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety commissioner and chair Tony Pagone issued a statement on Friday in response to feedback about measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Mr Pagone said it was important to exercise caution because the pandemic would affect individuals differently.

“The aged in our community are amongst the most vulnerable and are affected both by the potential to be infected with the virus as well as by the unintended consequences of the otherwise understandable and reasonable steps which have been taken to ensure for their safety,” Mr Pagone said.

He suggested providers would need to address gaps in resident care and living previously undertaken by family members and implement creative of ways to ensure residents remain connected with loved ones.

His calls follow the government’s announcement on 18 March that residential aged care facilities would have to ramp up visitor screening and restrictions for six months including keeping visits short and to a maximum of two people.

Consumer peak COTA Australia was among those raising concerns that some providers were over-restricting access in response to consumer feedback.

Mr Pagone said they too have received similar feedback.

“We have heard, and continue to hear, of many unfortunately unintended consequences flowing from the measures which have been taken to comply with the reasonable restrictions which have been imposed upon us by Government to protect the health and wellbeing of those intended to be protected.

“Many older people have been restricted in the number and length of family and other visitors who have been allowed to visit them,” he said.

The commission understands the importance of these measures, but everyone must bear in mind the vulnerability of residents and the potentially harmful consequences measures taken to protect them may be causing them harm, he said.

“There is, therefore, a need that the measures put in place to protect frail older people also deal with the negative aspects of the measures designed to protect them,” Mr Pagone said.

Tony Pagone

Restrictions may have impacts on the supplementary care family visitors provide, such as feeding and toileting, he said.

Any such reductions in visits from family needs to be supplemented by additional measures to ensure a health and quality life, Mr Pagone said.

“This may require urgent measures to deploy suitably qualified personnel to be directed to identifying the new needs, and increased needs, caused by the responses to COVID-19,” he said.

“It may also require creative measures to supplement the personal human contact that may be restricted or removed during these times.

“It may require, for example, providing access to electronic devices to enable more constant contact through video platforms where that is feasible and meaningful.”

Mr Pagone said the royal commission is continuing its work but reorganising how it does it.

“Our task is to investigate the safety and quality of aged care in Australia, and to do so as safely as possible in a pandemic,” he said.

“How we respond in the measures needed to care and provide quality of life to our older citizens will be an important indication of how good our system is and what may need to be done to improve it.”

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2 Comments

  1. We commend the Commissioner for his thoughtful, and thought-provoking, comments on the impact of Covid-19 on aged care. In particular, we applaud his recognition that a consequence of the measures put in place to protect vulnerable older people, “may be causing them harm.”
    Many of us, with relatives and/or friends in ACFs have for years performed roles as monitors, supplementary carers, and at times, even guards. The fact that there are major deficiencies within many ACFs is well-documented – one of the reasons for there being a Royal Commission. Over the last 6 years, we have provided 18-32 hours per week in an effort to ensure that he is adequately fed and hydrated.
    We are very afraid for our father – and other residents – by the exclusion of family members and friends. We fear that there is a very real danger of more residents dying because of the restrictions than might have died from the virus.
    To us there are 2 simple steps which can be taken – triage the need, and then require visitors to comply with the same infection control measures as staff. The need is not the same for all residents. For those who have adequate sight, hearing and cognition, explanation and the use of technology may meet their needs for a time. For people like Dad, the need is different, and cannot be met in this way. We believe that there is a strong case for us being allowed to continue the daily care we have been providing for so many years. We are prepared to comply with the same infection control protocols as staff, and to restrict our visit to Dad’s room only.
    The last thing we want is to be graciously allowed in for his “end of life” with a very profound suspicion that the “end of life” may well have been hastened by our exclusion from his care.

  2. absolutely. double edged sword.
    family can negotiate with manager, citing spirituality, wellbeing for resident.
    however, maybe govt can look at funding for extra ” wellbeing” staff to assist.
    however, this does not replace family.
    please consider extra staff members for this time to ensure “wellbeing needs” are met, and that person stays in contact with family. provides technology for conversations etc

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