Another aged care home goes into lockdown after worker tests positive – are blanket bans on visitors needed?

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More troubling news. Another aged care home in Adelaide announced it had been placed in immediate and total lockdown after an allied health worker who saw an undisclosed number of residents this week contracted coronavirus while playing a social basketball match.

The 45-resident St Louis aged care home in Parkside (pictured above) has barred all visitors and rostered on extra staff to keep the affected residents safely isolated in their rooms, The Australian reports.

A letter to families says that the allied health worker saw residents on Monday and was not feeling unwell, but received a call from the Department of Health Monday night to tell her a member of her basketball team who she had played a game with the previous Wednesday had tested positive to coronavirus.

All the residents who were seen by the affected aged care worker are now confined to their rooms and unable to leave with staff divided into two teams: one to see to the isolated residents and other to support the remaining residents.

“At this stage no-one is showing signs of illness. Monitoring will continue. If a resident becomes unwell, they will be tested and transferred to hospital as per departmental guidelines,” the letter states.

The lockdown raises the question of whether the Federal Government’s guidelines restricting visits to residents to two people per day to prevent the spread of the virus announced on Wednesday go far enough.

Media reports this week have called out providers for going ‘against’ the guidelines by issuing blanket bans on visitors, pointing to fears that residents could become vulnerable to isolation.

Both COTA and the Global Ageing Network (GAN) have raised concerns that banning visits could impact on residents’ wellbeing because of social isolation and loneliness.

But what is worse – cutting residents off from visitors or calling families to let them know their loved one has passed away because a visitor brought in an illness?

Three residents at a Sydney aged care facility have already died from the virus earlier this month after an outbreak infected six residents and four staff.

You only have to look at the experience of the 120-bed Life Care Center in Seattle – where 81 residents, 34 staff members and 14 visitors were infected and 35 residents have now died – to know how devastating a full-blown outbreak could be in an aged care home.

The reality is – for the time being – this could be the ‘new normal’ for operators, families and staff.

Providers who have implemented full bans tell us the guidelines imposed by the Government are the minimum standard – and point out that they do make exceptions for end-of-life care.

One of the highest profile providers to implement on a ban on visitors is Regis, which introduced a strict access control policy from 5pm on Tuesday for two weeks – before the Government announced the new restrictions.

CEO Linda Mellors says they will reassess the situation after this date, but the reaction from families has been “overwhelmingly positive”.

“There are, of course, some families distressed by the decision. We understand the distress and have put in place arrangements so that residents and their loved ones can maintain contact. As you would appreciate, the entire community is going to need to make drastic changes – some have started and more will come.”

“We haven’t had families request to take their loved one out at this point.”

We understand homes are encouraging family members and friends to keep in touch via telephone and video calls, distributing iPads and tablets for communication, organising more one-to-one activities organised for residents, issuing daily updates to family members and setting up Facebook sites for families to connect with residents.

As previously discussed, there is also an opportunity here for staff to step up and fill the hole left by the lack of visitors.

While much of the Royal Commission has focused on the clinical care provided to residents, we know providing ‘touch’ – and spending time with residents – is critical to quality of life.

At a time when many staff may be concerned about coming into work, this engagement could be key to retaining them.

And with the number of cases changing hourly, there could soon be a time when these guidelines seem like a distant memory.