Aged care dilemma as families despair over no contact rule
Aged care providers want the government to endorse their right to impose total bans on visitors to protect "public health and resident safety," but health experts say its not necessary.
Almost 1,000 providers have backed calls for a "revised statement" from the federal government confirming facilities are able to impose additional visitation restrictions "in some cases" beyond the measures recommended by the Australian Health Principal Protection Committee.
Currently unless there is an outbreak inside a home, or a cluster in the community around a facility, aged care providers have been told they must allow strictly screened visits from family and friends to the elderly.
National representatives from Anglicare, Baptist Care, Catholic Health, Leading Ages Services and Uniting Care have supported the call for the revised statement, as well as a process for the rapid escalation and resolution of "case-by-case issues" and a "timely response" from government on their request for further financial support during the coronavirus pandemic.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has criticised homes for completely banning visits, instead of following the guidelines restriction visitors to no more than two per day, for a short period of time in the confines of a residents' room.
"What I'm keen to do is ensure that people living in aged care facilities get their visits.," he said yesterday.
"Now, that doesn't mean they can have 100 visitors a day. Of course not. That would be dangerous.
"But there can be two visits a day and particularly by loved ones and close support people and that should be the norm."
The sector defended the bans in an online webinar meeting with Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck and Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy on Friday.
"We impressed upon them that it is incorrect to characterise the sector as having kept residents isolated, under lock and key, in their rooms. Nor are they secret places," a spokesman for the peak groups said.
Prof Murphy said the National Cabinet acknowledged the providers thought what they were doing was in the "best interests of residents".
"The National Cabinet was not blaming them, it was pointing out that we have to think about the psychological needs of those residents and they need to have access to their family and it can be made safe," he said.
"In a situation like we have in Australia, where there are some states and territories which have very few cases at all, they would agree it is not reasonable to completely deny access to very safely screened visitors for a short period of time and that everyone coming into a facility needs to be screened."
Australian Bupa aged care homes initially ended visits with some exemptions for compassionate reasons, but will resume from May 1 when mandatory influenza vaccine restrictions for all visitors kick in.
"We originally introduced these restrictions based on medical advice that the COVID-19 outbreak may become significant across the community," Bupa's managing director Suzanne Dvorak said.
"While it continues to be a serious and challenging situation, we are thankful that the outbreak has been suppressed earlier than anticipated, however, we need to remain vigilant."
Originally published as Aged care dilemma as families despair over no contact rule