Sep 15, 2021

Eased restrictions don’t go far enough to reduce aged care resident suffering

The NSW government has eased restrictions on aged care residents under lockdown, but some say the new freedoms are not enough, and are calling for more humane solutions for residents who are suffering under harsh lockdown conditions.

HelloCare has heard from several members of our Aged Care Worker Support Group about the devastating effects of lockdowns on residents.

“Zoom, FaceTime and phone calls are not enough. It can not replace their families,” she told HelloCare.

Residents are more often displaying signs of “aggression,” which Sarah attributes to their unmet needs during lockdown and the absence of family to provide care and support. This makes the staff’s job “ten times harder,” Sarah says.

Aged care staff, though well aware of the residents’ suffering under lockdown, are so busy getting their work done they are unable to spend the extra time residents need to make up for the loss of visitors. They are having to rush through meals and care, just to get everything done.

“We would love to sit and chat but [there is] no time. I try to spend a short time in their rooms chatting while I tidy their wardrobe or their rooms,” she said, but she was “always working” while she talked.

Sarah said she often feels “overwhelmed” at work.

Residents permitted to walk 1km from home

On Tuesday, the NSW government announced residents in areas under stay-at-home orders could walk within 1km of their aged care home. However, they are still not permitted to “interact with other people outside the facility.”

Aged care residents in Sydney, where stay-at-home orders are in place, are still not allowed visitors, except those providing “essential caring functions.”

Professor Lee-Fay Low, leader of The University of Sydney’s Ageing and Health Research Group, told HelloCare she is also hearing most homes are not allowing these types of carers. 

“They can’t get permission to do it,” she said.

Professor Low believes few residents will be able to take advantage of the concession allowing walks within 1km of the home.

“I can’t think of many residents who could take themselves out for a walk,” she said.

Allow singles bubbles for aged care residents

Professor Low said she hears “upsetting” stories from members of the community about loved ones suffering intensely during lockdowns.

With group outings off the cards and families unable to visit, residents are left with very few opportunities, she said.

Professor Low has been proposing ‘singles bubbles’ for aged care residents, just as they are allowed for other members of the community during lockdown.

“I’ve been saying that if, for wellbeing reasons, you have ‘singles bubbles’, then you should be allowing singles bubbles for aged care residents. That seems fair,” she said.

“If you live by yourself, you have one person, and there’s some rules about who that person can be, which is fine, I think you should allow that in aged care. 

“You could even require that person to be double vaccinated, and for the resident to be double vaccinated. You can put some safeguards around it.

“We truly need help”

Sarah said she would also like to see aged care homes come up with more creative ways to allow residents to interact with families.

For example, she knows of a facility that brought shipping containers onto the home’s grounds where families could visit. 

Sarah proposes employing more staff, having more lifestyle staff who can sit with residents, encouraging families to send letters (not emails), improving education for staff about residents’ mental health, and allowing family members who are double vaccinated to visit. 

The residents need more support than the carers can give, and this is placing an emotional and physical toll on staff.

“We are all very tired. I’m not sure how long we can sustain this pace without breaking. 

“I hope articles like yours can put it out there, as we truly need help,” Sarah concluded.

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  1. It’s interesting this story by its stark difference to things in our facility.
    In the 2020 lockdown we set up a fantastic marquee where family could visit their loved one, they could hear and see each other but not touch. This was pretty popular for a couple of weeks and then it wore off and eventually we stopped. This lockdown families and residents alike are taking it in their stride. Virtually no complaints, they saw that their resident came through the last experience unscathed and in good spirits so they are confident in the care and services provided and know everyone is doing well in a facility that has 100% resident and staff vaccinated.
    The exception of course is palliative care where unlimited access is available but all in all family, residents and staff are doing very well and know that each is as safe as possible.

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