Sep 26, 2022

Aged care COVID-19 deaths passes 4,000 milestone

Aged care COVID-19 deaths passes 4,000 milestone

Australia’s aged care facilities have reached an unwanted milestone as the 4,000th COVID-19 resident death was recorded last week.

The Department of Health and Aged Care’s latest national snapshot revealed 4,012 resident deaths have occurred as of September 21.

Craig Gear, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) for the Older Person’s Advocacy Network (OPAN) says it’s a sobering milestone to have passed. 

“We have to reflect on not just numbers, but behind each of those numbers is a person whose amazing life experience we have lost,” Mr Gear said.

“Four-thousand people whose value and contribution to life and to communities, are not there.

“The volume, the transmissibility in aged care, we see that it still happens and we’re not out of the woods yet for COVID-19.”

Mr Gear calls on aged care providers to continue implementing public health measures and safety practices to keep COVID-19 levels as low as possible.

With three months remaining in 2022, it has been the deadliest year on record as three-quarters of aged care COVID-19 deaths have taken place over the last nine months, compared to just 917 deaths in 2020 and 2021 combined.

COVID-19 has been responsible for 6.8% of all deaths in permanent residents in 2022.

Easing restrictions have likely impacted a rise in cases over winter, but there is an important balancing act for keeping aged care residents safe and social, said Mr Gear. 

“Along with other community organisations, we really championed a balanced approach to the risk of transmission in a facility and the quite significant impact we were seeing on a [resident’s] mental and physical wellbeing,” he said.

“We’re close to getting the balance right. There are still cases of some providers not having the Essential Visitor Program or the Partners in Care program in place and we’d like to see more of that.

“When there is a lockdown or enhanced restrictions, [it should be] for the shortest time possible [so] older people can still have a connection with someone who can come in safely.”

Overall COVID figures appear to be on a downward trend with the end of winter, following case spikes in residential aged care and deaths in late July. 

A total of 94,424 cases have been reported in residential aged care facilities, as national active COVID case numbers dropped below 1,000 to 960. Close to 85% of eligible residents have also received their fourth booster dose.

OPAN believes ongoing COVID-19 protection measures are crucial for aged care facilities but there isn’t a need to sacrifice socialisation.

Mr Gear says aged care residents deserve to be prepared and protected against future COVID outbreaks.

“There could easily be another wave and we need to use this recovery phase to plan and prepare for the next wave, in case it comes,” said Mr Gear.

“We have to think about the other aspects of older peoples’ lives where they still want to go out or have family and friends visit. So if it happens again we’re not just restricting visitors totally but maintaining control.

“There shouldn’t be anywhere that’s not allowing some sort of visitation even if there’s an outbreak.” 

If you are experiencing issues with residential aged care visitation due to COVID-19 restrictions, you can call OPAN on 1800 700 600 to find out more about visitation rights.

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