Feb 07, 2022

Aged care residents should have ‘dignity of choice’ regarding COVID isolation

Not-for-profit aged care provider BaptistCare and family members of BaptistCare residents have penned open letters to Prime Minister Scott Morrisson calling for new infection control guidelines that give residents “dignity of choice”.

BaptistCare CEO Charles Moore believes that “traditional infection control is no longer a viable strategy” in the fight against COVID and that aged care has been underfunded “long before the pandemic arrived”.

“At this moment, hundreds of aged care homes and thousands of residents are locked down due to exposures and outbreaks”.

Mr Moore continued, “This means that, again, our residents have been isolated in their rooms or restricted to smaller areas of the home for weeks on end without family, without the social interaction and physical activity so essential to their wellbeing.”

Human rights and risk management

With aged care homes across the country in dire need of more available staff, family members who have long provided an extra layer of care support across the sector have been forced to stay at home.

According to family members of residents that live in the Fairholm dementia wing of BaptistCare’s Morven Gardens facility, this dynamic is the cause of a great deal of ‘guilt’ for families who feel as though their relative’s emotional needs are not being met.

Spokesperson for the families of BaptistCare residents, Dr Cheryl Cordery, believes that families are being forced to watch elderly family members “decline” at a rapid pace due to a “lack of stimulation”.

“Lockdowns have been devastating for us as well as the residents and the staff,” said Dr Cordery.

“They need us there providing stimulation and activity like we did pre-COVID, not being locked out as those we love are forced to endure being locked in,” Dr Cordery added.

BaptistCare CEO Charles Moore echoes the sentiments of families.

“Endlessly isolating residents in their rooms and preventing visits from friends and family is not sustainable. But under the current health advice, this is what we must do. In one situation, residents have been forced to keep to their rooms for over 21 days,” shared Mr Moore.

“Aged care residents who are vaccinated deserve the dignity of choice around their mobility – just like we have in the broader community. And family members are a critical partner in our care model – we cannot simply remove them from the equation without serious consequences.” 

Underfunded, understaffed and underappreciated

Although COVID-19 has thrust staffing levels within aged care into the national spotlight, those in the sector know that staffing issues have been an ongoing problem for decades.

The rapid spread of the Omicron variant has left many staff unable to work due to COVID isolation protocols, stretching the available workforce to a level that is unsafe and unsustainable.

However, the fundamental issue facing the aged care workforce continues to loom large: how do you expect to attract and retain good people to work in an extremely challenging environment for terrible pay?

He continued, “With the ongoing pressure of the pandemic and without increasing award wages and improving the remuneration of aged care workers, we will continue to lose valuable people and experience.

“We can hardly expect workers to stay in aged care when their qualifications and experience will earn them more money in hospitals or in disability care.

“I write to you today because we cannot keep ‘pushing through’. We need change from the top and we need support from our communities to ensure Australia’s vulnerable and elderly receive the standard of care and services they deserve and expect,” he said.

Dr Cheryl Cordery and the other family members of BaptistCare residents also highlighted underfunding and the federal government’s failure to address issues highlighted by The Aged Care Royal Commission.

However, Dr Cordery and the other resident families had nothing but praise for BaptistCare staff. 

“It is not the dedicated staff from all aspects of the organisation that is to blame for the situation in aged care facilities. These amazing people have put their family life on hold for almost two years to stay safe for their residents,” said Dr Cordery.

“Similarly, when possible, we have shelved life outside our homes and Morven Gardens because we wanted to stay safe so that we could be with those most precious to us – our wives, husbands, partners, parents and friends.

“We want to be able again to participate in the life of Morven Gardens, with its residents and staff.”

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