May 01, 2020

Facilities imposing lockdowns could face sanctions

Aged care facilities that go above and beyond the government’s visitor restriction guidelines could be found non-compliant with the aged care quality standards, and even face sanctions.

The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission’s confirmation of its regulatory approach comes as the government injects an additional $205 million into aged care to ensure aged care residents continue to receive the social and emotional support they need from families.

Aged care visitor restrictions have emerged as one of the most contentious issues of Australia’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the government has been strident in its condemnation of providers that impose restrictions “above and beyond” its guidelines.

Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner, Janet Anderson PSM, told HelloCare, “It is not acceptable, fair or compassionate for residential aged care services to ban visits from carers and families.”

But providers have stressed that total visitor bans, sometimes referred to as ‘lockdowns’, are necessary to protect elderly residents from COVID-19.

Providers say their tough stance has been one of the factors contributing to fewer older Australians succumbing to the disease, compared with the horrific numbers of care home deaths that has been witnessed overseas.

In support of the government’s opposition to total visitor bans, the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission says it will issue aged care facilities with notices of non-compliance or even sanctions if visitor restrictions are not handled appropriately.

In particular, the Commission says providers must exercise sensitivity when applying visitor restrictions.

Ms Anderson said, “Aged care providers are expected to exercise care and compassion in applying restrictions, keeping consumers at the centre of decision-making.”

‘Short-notice’ site visits are being conducted

The commission is prepared to impose penalties on providers that do not manage visitor restrictions appropriately, she said.

“We are… continuing to undertake short-notice site visits and assessment contacts with approved providers to monitor their compliance with the standards including their preparedness for a COVID-19 outbreak and management of visitor restrictions.

“If evidence of non-compliance is found, the Commission is continuing to hold the provider to account through a range of compliance powers such as issuing directions, notices to remedy, non-compliance notices, or imposing sanctions,” Ms Anderson said.

Some providers continuing with blanket bans

Council on the Ageing chief executive, Ian Yates, told HelloCare he believes it’s a “good move” by the commission to use its regulatory levers to encourage aged care providers to implement reasonable visitor restrictions.

He said COTA has been encouraging them to do so for some time.

A number of cases that were referred to the commission have resulted in facilities “rapidly reviewing their procedures”, he said. “That’s a good outcome.”

But Mr Yates said some facilities continue to impose total visitor bans with no exceptions.

Overall, the sector is moving away from total visitor bans in the wake of the prime minister’s comments last week, Mr Yates said.

“The blanket ‘no’, with no exceptions, no ‘we’re not talking about your mum dying’, no ‘go away’. That stuff is disappearing.”

Some facilities have put better exceptions rules in place and there is more “balance” coming into the system, Mr Yates said.

Mr Yates said he’d like to see a review of the way the sector has handled the response to COVID-19 when the situation settles down.

“I think we need to have a review of… the vastly different responses in the sector,” he said.

Worried about visitor policies at your loved one’s nursing homes?

If you are concerned about the care of residents, or the actions of specific services associated with visitor restrictions or any other matter, you can make a complaint through the commission’s website or by calling 1800 951 822.

HelloCare reached out to Aged and Community Services Australia and Leading Age Services Australia for comment, but at the time of publishing had not received a response.

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  1. Surely the experiences overseas and Newmarch highlight the devastating risk of allowing large numbers of people into the homes. If people want to see their loved one, take them home on social leave for the duration. Who will be accountable for the next outbreak? The industry, yet again .. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t!

  2. Aged care homes cannot win. If we try to keep our residents safe, by restricting visitors we are not compassionate. If we let them in, we risk condemnation if we happen to get the virus. Just look at the media abuse on the nursing homes that have had the virus in. I do not believe nursing homes get enough support. We should not hav3 to look after COVId-19 residents and get criticised it spreading. Even in dedicated hospital wings with onsite doctors, the staff are catching it. Disgraceful treatment of residential facilities. Outside fines for nor social distancing, inside, let everyone in or face fines and sanctions. Double standards.

  3. This would be the governments worst nightmare to place sanctions on these providers. For doing their jobs under the WHS Legislation they are mandated to adhere to as a PCBU to keep their staff and residents safe. No one has yet figured a way to ensure everyone had their Flu shot yet as 1 May has passed. Maybe add if you want to visit they need to download the COVID Safe App. Many smaller providers will provide notice they are closing their doors. As they can not safely operate and than what will this government do? We already seen the bigger ones are to big to close down, so a sanction really means nothing to them operationally.

  4. The above article is completely false. Having followed suggestions to contact the “commission” to raise a complaint; only to be told later we (Commission) can not tell providers what to do in regard to full lockdowns. Even when it goes against the aged care standards and the charter of rights. They also go outside government recommendations with not cause.
    The commission has suspended all visits to aged care facilities due to the COVID-19 issues.

  5. I think it is just an excuse not to pay for extra staff to keep the elderly entertained and cared for properly. Alot of the families that visit do alot for their loved ones like feeding them, walking them and just being there for them although there is alot of families that never visit as well. So the usual loving and caring family members will always be there. These families also know how busy the carers are and are concerned they will not get proper care if they are not there. True. As complaintency happens when guards are down. They are a godsend at times for overworked staff. So thank you families. We really appreciate your help and for caring about your loved ones. I do believe though that the government still washes it’s hands of Aged Care. They don’t want to put more staff on and professional Nurse practitioners during this pandemic as it may start a precedent and the government just might have to keep this as ” the norm.” Something to consider.

    1. I totally agree Anonymous. No ones asking for full open access. Many family and close friend carers visit their resident frequently. Many go every single day, they feed, help bathe, entertain their loved one. They just couldn’t keep them at home anymore. I bet every one of you knows at least two people who do this in your facility.

  6. The home where mum is in Townsville, is still in total lockdown. Last notification I had said that as from next Wednesday 6th May providing I pass an assessment test (specific questions) have had current flu vaccination I will be able to visit mum one day per week for only 2 hours. She is 96 and just about totally deaf and will not wear hearing aids, so we have had no communication with her since total lockdown. I ring the facility and they tell me she is OK and they send photographs of her twice a week. The last words she said to me as I was leaving on the last day before lock down were “God Help Me”. We had lots of concerns about her care before lockdown, so am really worried about her.

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