HelloCare has learned from a number of sources that some aged care homes are still placing unnecessary restrictions on visitors, even though the majority of homes are doing their utmost to do the right thing.
Craig Gear, CEO of the Older Person’s Advocacy Network, told HelloCare that OPAN “unfortunately” is still hearing of families who are being prevented from seeing loved ones.
“Even more concerning”, Mr Gear said, are the situations in which loved ones who are also carers can’t access their friend or family member in aged care.
OPAN has also heard recently of cases where the health of dementia residents has declined due to continued periods of isolation.
Ian Yates AM, chief executive of Council on the Ageing, told HelloCare there are “more providers than many think” maintaining “total lockdown policies”, or have only very recently moved away from that in response to public pressure.
“Some of those have been quite large providers, as well as many small ones,” Mr Yates said.
An even bigger concern, according to Mr Yates, is the fact that a “very significant number” of providers are only allowing very restricted visiting – such as for two or three hours a day, only weekdays, and only during the middle of the day.
These restrictions will exclude many visitors, Mr Yates said.
COTA is also aware of providers only allowing so-called ‘window’ visits. “Under the Code [window visits] are not visits but alternatives when visits are not possible” or as “supplements” to visits, Mr Yates said.
Some aged care homes are also placing “onerous restrictions” on residents going out from an aged care home, Mr Yates revealed.
Mr Yates said he has heard of aged care homes that have “not facilitated care and support visitation as under section 7 of the Code” which says visits for ‘social support’ must be maintained.
It’s “interesting” that many providers are “still not crash hot” on infection control, but exclude visitors “at the drop of a hat, despite no infections having come through visitors”, Mr Yates said.
11 months without visiting
Rodney Jilek, gerontologist and managing director of Aged Care Consulting and Advisory Services, alleged on social media, where he has more than 10,000 followers, that he was unable to visit his wife’s grandmother in a regional aged care home due to a ban on Sydney visitors.
Dr Jilek told HelloCare that he and his family had not seen his wife’s grandmother, who is 89, for 11 months due to the pandemic.
They were keen to visit the home, in particular to introduce a new member of the family, who was only born in October.
Dr Jilek wrote about his experience on social media out of frustration.
A number of people responded to Dr Jilek’s post saying they were experiencing visitor bans in areas where there are no COVID-19 cases.
But Frank Price, CEO of the provider, Royal Freemasons’ Benevolent Institution, disputes Dr Jilek’s account. He wrote in response to the post “it was simply not the case” there was a ban on Sydney visitors.
Mr Price confirmed to HelloCare that he does not agree with Dr Jilek’s account. “We know that the allegations made against this village are false as we have had normal visitation arrangements there for quite some months,” he said.
“It’s not the same as being able to hold him”
Upon discovering a ban was not in place, Dr Jilek and his family made the six-hour drive to see their beloved grandmother and great grandmother, returning the very next day.
“It was nice to finally get up there,” he told HelloCare. The visit came as a surprise, and left ‘Nana’ “very, very excited”.
“There have been video chats, which have been nice, but it’s not the same as being able to hold him,” Dr Jilek said.
Regulator still receives complaints about visits
Ms Janet Anderson PSM, Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner, told HelloCare that the commission is still receiving complaints about visitator restrictions due to COVID-19, although the number of complaints has been declining every month.
Complaints were at a high in April when there were 225 complaints about visitor restrictions, whereas there were only 39 complaints on that matter in November 2020.
Mr Yates said COTA has been pushing for a survey of visiting practices, either by the Department of Health or the Quality Commission, in order to obtain better data on the visiting practices of aged care homes around the country. There is a lack of good data on it, he said.
New visiting guidelines must be put into practice
The Department of Health recently released ‘Visitation guidelines for residential aged care providers’.
“We want to see providers putting [the guidelines] into practice, particularly as we approach the holiday season,” Mr Gear said.
“We know that a person’s loss of connection to their loved ones has an enormous impact on their wellbeing and so it’s important we do what we can to make sure older people are able to spend time with the people they care about,” he said.
“The revised visitation guidelines introduce a tiered system that means providers can quickly scale measures up or down depending on the COVID-19 situation they’re facing.”
“This year we’ve seen older people being cut off from their loved ones and isolated from their community and we know that’s taken a toll on people’s wellbeing,” Mr Gear said. “Restoring that connection is vital, particularly as we approach the holiday season.
“There is still a risk of a COVID-19 outbreak in the community and in aged care facilities, as we saw in South Australia recently, that needs to be managed.
“The visitation guidelines will help providers to balance people connecting with their loved ones while managing that risk.”
In addition, the revised Visitor Code seems to have been well received by providers, Mr Yates observed.
Visits facilitated during outbreaks
Some aged care providers never went into any kind of lockdown, even during a COVID-19 outbreak.
The large aged care provider Hammondcare didn’t lock down any of its homes. The small provider, Multicultural Aged Care in Geelong, converted shipping containers into comfortable ‘visitor rooms’ that allowed visits, even at the height of the pandemic. Visitors could see their loved one though a see-through screen, and good acoustics meant they could hear each other easily. Even pets were able to attend these visits. The rooms were open all day, and could be used by appointment, seven days a week.
Dr Jilek said during his time working in Victorian aged care homes experiencing outbreaks, “we were facilitating visits for people when there was an active outbreak in the home,” he said.
“If we can do that safely, surely a site can do that when there is no outbreak and there’s nothing even in the state,” Dr Jilek said.
“I think it comes down to an unwillingness to put things in place, to provide resources and manage it, instead of just pulling down the shutters and saying we’re closed.”
Image: delihayat, iStock.