Mar 26, 2020

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t: COVID-19 aged care visitor bans

 

Providers faced a difficult decision when it came to deciding whether or not to allow some visitors into their homes at this point in the COVID-19 crisis. They could either follow the government’s guidelines and place tight restrictions on visits from friends and family, or go into complete lockdown, imposing a total ban on visitors.

Neither option is desirable, yet one of these choices, or a variation of them, is necessary. Restricting visitor numbers is one of the surest ways to prevent staff and aged care residents from contracting coronavirus and preventing the disease from spreading.

Every provider in the country has faced the dilemma. 

And yet, instead of showing understanding towards the tough circumstances aged care providers find themselves in and respecting their decisions, responses to providers’ COVID-19 visitor policies from the community have been mixed. 

Some have slammed total bans. One seniors’ advocate said total bans are excessive and lazy, and families have complained they should not be prevented from seeing their elderly loved ones. 

Yet many of our readers support the total ban on visitors. They believe this is the most effective way to stop frail residents from contracting COVID-19, and they suggest that if our society is serious about ‘flattening the curve’ social restrictions should be tighter than those being proposed by the government (at the time of writing).

It seems providers are being damned if they do impose a lockdown, yet also damned if they don’t.

Avoiding an outbreak in a regional home

Baptist Care understandably has taken a strong stance on this matter after its Dorothy Henderson Lodge suffered a COVID-19 outbreak. They have imposed a total ban on visitors.

At a seminar held by Aged and Community Services Australia, the CEO of Baptist Care, Ross Low, said with 700-800 visitors per day to their homes, visits pose too great a risk. Mr Low felt justified in taking a strong stance in order to do everything they can to prevent a second outbreak, adding that if there were to be an outbreak in a regional facility they could struggle to replace staff who had to be quarantined because there are travel bans in place.

Baptist Care communicates daily with families and has employed a communication coordinator to help residents stay in touch with their loved ones.

Expert infection control advice

Japara has also been in voluntary lockdown since 20 March, and has said it will reassess the situation on 3 April.

In a video on Japara’s website, the company’s new CEO, Chris Price, said the provider sought expert infection control advice before making the call.

“The visitor restrictions imposed have been greater than the government suggested,” he said.

“We understand this is an extremely difficult time for everyone and this decision has not been taken lightly. Our aim is to ensure we balance your physical safety and care while staying socially connected with loved ones.”

Japara will help to facilitate calls between residents and their loved-ones, and is working on a range of digital options to help residents and families stay connected.

Compassionate exemptions to lockdowns

In a letter to residents, Mr Price said exemptions will be made in exceptional circumstances where visitors can show they are well, haven’t been overseas and haven’t been in direct contact with someone who has COVID-19.

Estia Health has also stopped all visitors to their homes for the time being, according to its website.

“We understand that this decision will have a significant impact on our residents and their close contacts and sincerely apologise for this,” a statement issued by the company states.

Estia Health will consider exemptions to the lockdown on compassionate grounds.

Estia CEO Ian Thorley said, “We understand these changes will have a significant impact, however we believe these steps are necessary to protect our residents and our employees.”

Estia is in the process of introducing technology to allow our residents to “virtually” connect with their family and friends.

Visits allowed banned except in exceptional circumstances

Blue Cross states on its website that families can only visit under special circumstances, such as in palliative care situations, and with the approval from the home management. Essential visits must take place in a resident’s room, can only involve a maximum of two people per day per resident, and must only be of short duration. Children will only be permitted by exception, for example in for palliative care cases.

Blue Cross is not allowing resident outings.

We all have to accept new boundaries

No aged care provider will be making these decisions lightly. 

This is an extremely difficult time for them. An outbreak of COVID-19 in any home is a highly undesirable and dangerous event. 

Providers are working with governments, they are consulting with experts, they are making the most informed decisions they can, tackling a new disease that even experts are grappling to understand. 

It’s time we backed their choices, practiced tolerance and concentrated on what we can do within the boundaries being imposed on us to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in an overall pretty terrible set of circumstances.

 

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  1. We are in full lock down & have been for over a week. Most relatives have been very understanding & appreciative of our efforts to keep their elderly loved one safe, however a very small number have been angry & abusive about being denied access to their loved one & have threatened to report us to the Quality Commission. It is unfortunate that some people can’t understand that the health & safety of these vulnerable residents is more important than their once weekly visit but some people are just selfish I guess.

  2. I find it absolutely disgusting that staff are not at a minimum given a mask to wear. The government issues a new yeah but policy around acquiring PPE etc. Did the government not label our aged as a high risk group? Did we not learn anything from our Baptist care home? A ounce of prevention around this is better than having numerous elderly die from a preventive incident. You know this is where aged care needs to become tech savy facilities and have smart tv’s in rooms and support video calls and more. Limit visitation is wise and have controlled visits.It is a tough one but we can make sure we support our aged and their family and friends through tough times.

  3. There are a few people who have visited their loved one daily to provide cares the nursing home cannot physically do I’m allotted time. When your elder cannot move, cannot see or hear well, cannot self feed or even drink water they require a dedicated carer. When feeding this person can take 45 minutes yet the allotted time for paid staff is 9 minutes. These carers have become a part of the care team for their loved one. They do far more than visit. We know from the royal commission that these vulnerable elders are at risk of dehydration, malnutrition and death. I do think there needs to be some leeway for these people. Many have self isolated for weeks and follow all hygiene protocols and are no further danger to others that the normal change of shifts for the staff.

  4. We are in proactive lockdown and I have renamed it Proactive Care. To me, the facility are protecting our residents from stupid. Most families understand and have worked out other ways to interact with their family member. Form face time, standing on the outside of the fence and talking through windows. If the family member is palliative there is not restrictions.

  5. Homes that have closed are actually breaching the aged care standards.
    While I highly doubt they will be reprimanded in any way, some facilities are not thinking of what impact locking down early has on the residents.
    Considering we are most likely headed in that direction (lock-down) soon, I would have thought limited and strict visitation is a fair compromise. It could be six months or more before some residents see their family again and facilities are only extending that time of emotional duress.
    Yes, its difficult to enforce and harder than locking-down, but we are in this sector to care and look after our residents in more ways than to care for them physically. We should be supporting them emotionally and still allowing the companionship of their husband/wife and family while it is still under our control.

  6. The title of the article is perfect. The responses to date reflect this. They also reflect common sense; 4 in favour, 1 against. Pleasing to know that common sense is more common.

    Perhaps i am a cynical curmudgeon however i suspect, sadly, that the Aged Care Provider would be publicly hung, drawn and quartered if a COVID case was identified in their facility which continued to have visitors, by the very same people currently critical of a lockdown.

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