The sector appears to be heading for a showdown with the Government over the restricted access that many aged care homes have put in place to protect residents from the spread of COVID-19.
After offering earlier advice to operators on Tuesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison doubled down on Friday following the National Cabinet meeting, warning providers would face Government intervention if they did not allow families to see loved ones on a daily basis.
“I am flagging very clearly at a federal level – that should we not see an improvement in this area, under the voluntary arrangements that we currently have in place, that the commonwealth would be moving to require aged care facilities that wish to have an exemption to those national principles, those national arrangements, then they would need to seek authority to do that from the commonwealth, and we would make such a decision in consultation with the relevant state and territory jurisdiction,” he said.
“We are not going to have these as secret places, where people can’t access them,” he added.
Operators angry and disappointed by PM’s comments
Providers we spoke to were angered and disappointed by the comments – you can read their responses here.
The current advice from the Department of Health is that residents can have two visitors per day for a short amount of time, but operators point out that this amounts to 240 visitors a day for a 120-bed aged care homes.
Some states including South Australia and Tasmania also have their own measures that differ from the Federal recommendations and offer stiff penalties that operators must abide by – Tasmania reconfirmed last week it would not lift its ban on non-essential visitors to aged care homes.
In response to the PM’s comments, the seven major organisations issued a joint statement yesterday, denying that aged care homes are “secret places” and in turn calling out the Government for failing to provide the funding needed to meet the extra costs that operators are incurring during the pandemic.
“The funding provided that equates to an average of $2 per resident per day is not enough for aged care operators to keep winning the fight to keep coronavirus out of aged care homes,” they state.
“$2 a day per resident does not cover all the additional requirements such as PPE, cleaning and sanitation, backfilling staff who have to isolate, technology and social distancing measures.”
Aged Care Minister ‘berates’ providers for ‘locking people up’
The statement also followed a tense national webinar hosted by the sector between around 850 providers with the Aged Care Minister, Senator Richard Colbeck and the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Brendan Murphy, later on Friday.
You can see what providers we spoke to thought of the Aged Care Minister’s appearance here.
Despite providers telling the Minister and CMO that families and residents overwhelmingly support restricted access to aged care homes, they say they were essentially berated for ‘locking people up’.
Minister Colbeck has also indicated that he has not changed his views.
“The pushback against the Prime Minister’s recommendations on visitation access for residential care facilities is misguided,” he said on Sunday.
“It is just not conscionable that some senior Australians may never have personal contact with their loved ones again.”
“The attempt by the sector to quote surveys of families who say they support the total shutdown does not change the advice of the AHPPC, which also takes into account the wider needs of residents, particularly those with dementia or in the end-of-life phase.”
The question is however: will the Government accept the responsibility if visitor restrictions are eased and another aged care home suffers a major outbreak?