The ‘Industry Code for Visiting Residential Aged Care Homes during COVID-19’ has been revised – with a new three-tier escalation plan – after some homes were found to still be restricting visitors – in certain cases, because of a lack of staff to manage screening requirements.
As we covered here, 13 aged care peak bodies and consumer advocacy organisations worked together to develop the Code after many providers put visitor restrictions in place at the peak of the pandemic, prompting Prime Minister Scott Morrison to threaten to force homes to open their doors.
Under the new escalation plan, providers can only restrict visitors under the highest Tier 3 where there is an outbreak of COVID-19 in the community.
Otherwise, facilities are advised to have fewer restrictions on visitors and allow excursions, small gatherings and outdoor exercise, but be vigilant depending on transmission rates in their suburb as well as surrounding areas.
Even under Tier 3, a resident’s family and friends must be allowed to visit with only volunteers excluded.
However, providers can limit the number of people at Tiers 2 and 3 to allow for physical distancing and hygiene requirements.
Facilities must also offer alternatives to connect residents and families such as technology, window visits and balconies.
Providers that don’t follow the Code may attract attention of the regulator: Craig Gear
Craig Gear (pictured right), the CEO of the Older Persons Advocacy Network (OPAN) which worked on the revised Code, tells us it was necessary as not all providers were following the voluntary measures.
“Some facilities were going tighter than the controls, wanting to manage risk and infection control,” he said, “but were not realising some of the impact for families.”
“Some facilities didn’t have enough staff to do screening and so were limiting hours which meant that people who had work or children were able to come to visit.”
He says the new tiered plan should provide greater clarity for both residents and providers around residents leaving the facility, particularly as Christmas approaches.
While the Code is not mandatory, Craig also warns that provides that do not follow its guidelines may find themselves the subject of complaints to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission (ACQSC).
“They need to understand that is they are not going to let visitors in and have restrictions when there is a low risk of COVID, that will be a question for the Quality Commission to investigate.”