Providers faced a difficult decision when it came to deciding whether or not to allow some visitors into their homes at this point in the COVID-19 crisis. They could either follow the government’s guidelines and place tight restrictions on visits from friends and family, or go into complete lockdown, imposing a total ban on visitors.
Neither option is desirable, yet one of these choices, or a variation of them, is necessary. Restricting visitor numbers is one of the surest ways to prevent staff and aged care residents from contracting coronavirus and preventing the disease from spreading.
Every provider in the country has faced the dilemma.
And yet, instead of showing understanding towards the tough circumstances aged care providers find themselves in and respecting their decisions, responses to providers’ COVID-19 visitor policies from the community have been mixed.
Some have slammed total bans. One seniors’ advocate said total bans are excessive and lazy, and families have complained they should not be prevented from seeing their elderly loved ones.
Yet many of our readers support the total ban on visitors. They believe this is the most effective way to stop frail residents from contracting COVID-19, and they suggest that if our society is serious about ‘flattening the curve’ social restrictions should be tighter than those being proposed by the government (at the time of writing).
It seems providers are being damned if they do impose a lockdown, yet also damned if they don’t.
Avoiding an outbreak in a regional home
Baptist Care understandably has taken a strong stance on this matter after its Dorothy Henderson Lodge suffered a COVID-19 outbreak. They have imposed a total ban on visitors.
At a seminar held by Aged and Community Services Australia, the CEO of Baptist Care, Ross Low, said with 700-800 visitors per day to their homes, visits pose too great a risk. Mr Low felt justified in taking a strong stance in order to do everything they can to prevent a second outbreak, adding that if there were to be an outbreak in a regional facility they could struggle to replace staff who had to be quarantined because there are travel bans in place.
Baptist Care communicates daily with families and has employed a communication coordinator to help residents stay in touch with their loved ones.
Expert infection control advice
Japara has also been in voluntary lockdown since 20 March, and has said it will reassess the situation on 3 April.
In a video on Japara’s website, the company’s new CEO, Chris Price, said the provider sought expert infection control advice before making the call.
“The visitor restrictions imposed have been greater than the government suggested,” he said.
“We understand this is an extremely difficult time for everyone and this decision has not been taken lightly. Our aim is to ensure we balance your physical safety and care while staying socially connected with loved ones.”
Japara will help to facilitate calls between residents and their loved-ones, and is working on a range of digital options to help residents and families stay connected.
Compassionate exemptions to lockdowns
In a letter to residents, Mr Price said exemptions will be made in exceptional circumstances where visitors can show they are well, haven’t been overseas and haven’t been in direct contact with someone who has COVID-19.
Estia Health has also stopped all visitors to their homes for the time being, according to its website.
“We understand that this decision will have a significant impact on our residents and their close contacts and sincerely apologise for this,” a statement issued by the company states.
Estia Health will consider exemptions to the lockdown on compassionate grounds.
Estia CEO Ian Thorley said, “We understand these changes will have a significant impact, however we believe these steps are necessary to protect our residents and our employees.”
Estia is in the process of introducing technology to allow our residents to “virtually” connect with their family and friends.
Visits allowed banned except in exceptional circumstances
Blue Cross states on its website that families can only visit under special circumstances, such as in palliative care situations, and with the approval from the home management. Essential visits must take place in a resident’s room, can only involve a maximum of two people per day per resident, and must only be of short duration. Children will only be permitted by exception, for example in for palliative care cases.
Blue Cross is not allowing resident outings.
We all have to accept new boundaries
No aged care provider will be making these decisions lightly.
This is an extremely difficult time for them. An outbreak of COVID-19 in any home is a highly undesirable and dangerous event.
Providers are working with governments, they are consulting with experts, they are making the most informed decisions they can, tackling a new disease that even experts are grappling to understand.
It’s time we backed their choices, practiced tolerance and concentrated on what we can do within the boundaries being imposed on us to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in an overall pretty terrible set of circumstances.