Aged care facilities should not be banning all visitors, but should be complying with the government’s “clear and sensible” guidelines, Australia’s peak body for older people has said.

A statement from Council on the Ageing said some aged care providers are using the new restrictions as an “excuse” for “unacceptable restraint on the rights of residents and families”.

COTA is calling on aged care providers to ensure they implement the guidelines in a manner that is “sensible, compassionate, respectful and proportionate” for residents and families.

But Ian Yates, chief executive of COTA, said some providers are adopting the “cookie cutter” and “top down” approach of banning all visitors in a way that lacks “sensitivity and common-sense”.

Banning visitors in a system already plagued with “neglect”

The decision by some operators to place a total ban on visitors has many in the industry worried. 

In an aged care system already branded with the title “neglect” by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, some are saying this is not the time to ban visitors from aged care facilities.

Visitors – family, friends – are usually a resident’s best advocate, and one industry insider we spoke to said there are concerns care standards could deteriorate if visitors are not there to look out for their loved ones.

HelloCare readers have also told us that total visitor bans are leaving families and residents distressed and causing them to lash out, making the work of carers even more difficult at an already extremely busy and vexing time.

Government guidelines “appropriate” and “flexible”

Mr Yates said the government’s latest guidelines provide “clarity and consistency” and are appropriate for keeping vulnerable residents safe and to prevent the spread of the disease. 

The measures also have a suitable degree of flexibility. For example, in circumstances where a resident is in their final days and receiving palliative care, families should be able to negotiate spending time with their loved one.

Residents living with dementia most affected by visitor bans

Visitor bans on residents living with dementia can be particularly detrimental, Mr Yates said. 

“Contact with family and loved ones is a crucial part of care for many aged care residents, such as those with dementia,” said Mr Yates. 

“An example is the elderly wife who comes each day to sit and talk for hours with her husband with advanced dementia. 

“If she is prevented from doing this her husband will become anxious, disoriented and have behavioural problems and the facility will have to spend more staff time with him, or he will end up being drugged.”

“Today I talked to a major provider with very strict visiting rules, who would nevertheless enable this wife, while following all hygiene precautions, to continue visiting as usual in the name of both compassionate care and sensible management,” Mr Yates said.

“The same compassionate provider has a tougher than government recommended restriction of one visitor at a time, but if a daughter brings her frail mother to visit the dementing father – that’s two people, and it’s okay, because that’s compassionate care.”

“But I also listened to family members of another major provider who have been banned from visiting their family member, without any notice. 

“That’s not in accordance with our Aged Care Standards.”

Aged care facilities should be able to manage visits

If staff are able to come and go to an aged care facility, visitors should be allowed and residents should be able to attend appointments if done sensibly, Mr Yates said.

“My staff took a call from a resident who alleges she has been punished for leaving an arbitrarily ‘locked down’ facility to attend a grandchild’s baptism and has been told she cannot attend a medical appointment with her doctor outside the facility unless she goes into isolation afterwards,” he said.

“If an aged care facility can manage the health and safety of its staff, who come and go daily and could potentially pose a significant health risk to residents, then there is no reason it can’t also safely manage family visitors with strict control measures,” Mr Yates said.

Lockdowns should only be in response to an outbreak

Mr Yates said lockdowns are a “lazy” response to the coronavirus and urged providers not to make decisions based on “convenience” or “profits”.

“So called ‘lockdowns’ are the opposite of a sensible and compassionate response and should only be a temporary emergency response to an internal or nearby community outbreak, while longer term measures are worked out,” he said.

“They should never be a long-term response. 

“As a long term approach “lockdowns” are a lazy, alarmist and counter-productive reaction, the opposite of being compassionate and caring.

“Restrictions on aged care visits during this crisis must not be a result of panicked response, or driven by provider convenience, or by concerns about profits. 

“They must emerge from ongoing consultation with, and listening to, residents and families within the framework of the Aged Care Standards, which emphasise on an equal footing consumer dignity and respect, the dignity of risk, best practice infection control, and consumer engagement and quality of life.”

Government’s aged care guidelines

The following people will not be permitted to visit aged care facilities:

  • People who have been overseas in the last 14 days,
  • People who have had contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the last 14 days, 
  • Those with cold or flu symptoms, 
  • Those who have not been vaccinated,
  • No groups,
  • No schoolchildren. 

All visitors need to be screened against these criteria. 

All visitors should be required to sanitise their hands before entry, go only to their resident’s room and not access common areas.

All visits are to be kept brief. 

Only two visitors with the resident at any time. 

Mr Yates said he will continue to consult with the government and the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission on coronavirus and will advocate for a compassionate approach to visiting.

 

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