Australian aged care providers have been nothing short of admirable throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Disastrous outcomes in nursing homes across the U.S, U.K, and Spain are a clear indication that Australia’s current guidelines for limiting visitor access are working, and many providers deserve praise for their proactive approach to protecting their residents.

The reality for many aged care providers is that limitations on visits are an ongoing point of conflict between themselves and their residents’ families.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s recent claims that he was ‘very concerned’ that aged care providers may be “overstepping recommended visitation guidelines” have added fuel to an already volatile situation, however well-meaning it may have been.

The fact that the PM utilised the public spotlight to place even more pressure on providers who are under resourced yet still minimising the spread across Australia, has left many industry figures shaking their heads.

After more than 35 years of clinical and executive management experience in the aged care industry, Envigor Home Care, CEO, Nick Loudon, has unique knowledge of both the Australian aged care sector and government processes.

And he took the time to share his thoughts and the collective thoughts of many aged care providers with HelloCare.

About Us, Without Us

Although many would assume that the success regarding COVID-19 would stem from a close relationship and ongoing consultation between government and aged care industry professionals, unfortunately, this is not the case.

According to Mr. Loudon, most people would be more astounded by the things that don’t actually happen rather than what does.

“There is no mechanism at a state level for there to be any sort of interaction whatsoever between the aged care industry and the acute health sector. There is no consultation at that level.”

“The advisory group that is advising the Chief Health Officer and the Government are all of the other Chief Health Officers from all of the states. There is no person there who represents aged care.”

“This is essentially a group of bureaucratic doctors, and although some of them have sound experience, none of them have any experience in aged care whatsoever and there is not even a geriatrician on there.”

“A number of us have approached state health ministers with the view of setting up regular round tables with the acute care, primary care, and aged care sector, but that has not been forthcoming. They are not interested.”

“There is an absolute arrogance in the acute care setting and health departments, at state levels in particular, that think that they know every damn thing that there is to know.”

“Then they try and tell aged care providers how to run their homes when they themselves have no idea and no experience in it.”

Restriction Fiction

No-one is perfect and leaders don’t always get things right.

Scott Morrison’s performance over the last two months has exemplified many of the leadership qualities that were heavily scrutinised throughout the Australian bushfire crisis.

Although his recent comments may have merely been an attempt to reassure the masses that older people were not being completely disconnected from their families, suggestions of an industry over-reaction to current guidelines appear to be divided.

According to Mr. Loudon, most providers have been working closely with residents and their families to implement arrangements that work for all parties involved while keeping residents safe.

“There might be instances where providers are concerned about local incidents of coronavirus in their particular area that may require more stringent visitation access for a period of time, but that just makes sense,” said Mr. Loudon.

“Providers still have to adhere to the guidelines, but the guidelines haven’t changed, the only thing that has really happened is that the government has run to the media acting as though something has changed.”

“They throw out statements like ‘older people shouldn’t be kept from their families,’ but these same people put out guidelines that say we need to ensure the welfare of older people – well, to be able to do that, we need restrictions.”

“Coming out with inflammatory statements that totally contradict the guidelines on their own website only adds to putting providers at odds with the relatives of residents.”

“These people will now be saying ‘well, the prime minister said that I can come in,’ and that has some very real ramifications.”

Although current guidelines are clearly working, closer inspection of visitation restrictions seems confusing at best.

While there is a total ban on children, visits have only been limited to two people per resident, at one-time per-day.

To put that into perspective, that actually means that a facility with 120 beds could potentially have 240 people coming into that facility which would appear to be a complete contradiction to mass-gathering guidelines.

“How could anyone think that doing this safely would not require additional resources?” said Mr. Loudon.

“Managing the comings-and-goings of these people and then checking their influenza status, checking temperatures, and having them complete questionnaires – that’s a two or three-person job by itself.”

Whipping Boy 

When you consider the high regard that hospitals and their staff are held in, it’s hard not to understand why so many in the aged care industry are growing tired of the negativity and continual lack of consideration.

After 18 solid months of being dragged across the coals throughout the ongoing Royal Commission, Tuesday’s press conference would have been the perfect opportunity for the aged care industry to take a bow and receive some well deserved praise.

Instead, Scott Morrison utilised the opportunity to question the work being done by aged care providers, in a move that he may look back upon as a misstep.

“We get under-resourced because we don’t have a voice and then we get called whinges because we are always calling out for more money,” said Mr. Loudon.

“You can’t have quality unless you pay for it, you can only pay for what you can pay for.”

“There is no doubt that the Royal Commission will uncover some unsavoury things and we are disgusted by it. As an industry, it is not reflective of the overwhelming majority of providers and the people who work in them.”

“It is really easy for the media and people in the government to throw out the term ‘providers’ because it makes it sound as if there are no people involved in this. It makes it sound as if they are cold, unnuanced organisations that robotically make decisions about other people’s lives.”

“These organisations are run by people. Good people. People who give a shit about older people and care more about them than anyone else in society does.”

“They didn’t sit around waiting for the government to make a decision, they took things into their own hands to protect their residents so they didn’t end up like the poor people over in the U.S, U.K, and Spain.”

“Older people in these countries are dying like flies because their governments, like ours, are neglecting them as well.”

The views represented in this article are those of Nick Loudon. They do not necessarily reflect the views of HelloCare, yet we believe all opinions are important as they often represent the views of those with a softer yet important voice.

Photo Credit – iStock – sfmorris

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