Dec 14, 2020

Residents banned from visiting loved ones on Christmas Day

 

A small number of aged care providers will ban residents from going out with their loved ones on Christmas Day as a COVID-19 precautionary measure, despite there being no community transmission of the virus anywhere in Australia and no official guidance recommending they do so.

The issue of residents spending time with friends and family on Christmas Day was raised in HelloCare’s ‘Aged care workers support group’, prompting our team to put the question to the group more broadly.

The small ‘snap poll’ revealed the vast majority of aged care providers are doing the right thing – only placing “limited” restrictions on residents going out on Christmas Day and conducting standard health checks on residents returning.

However, a small number said that residents are being banned from spending the day with loved ones.

Some also said residents who go out with friends or family will have to go into quarantine afterwards.

Peak bodies and advocates for older people say the restrictions are an infringement of the residents’ rights and not in keeping with the aged care quality and safety standards, or official guidance about aged care visits.

Flexibility over visits essential over Christmas

Ian Yates AM, chief executive of Council on the Ageing, told HelloCare that COTA has also heard about residents being banned from going out with loved ones on Christmas Day.

He predicted the ongoing problems with restricted visits to aged care homes will “come to a head” over Christmas, and on the weekend, COTA launched a campaign to raise the issue of restricted visits with the public.

COTA is still hearing “disturbingly regular reports” of aged care homes imposing heavy restrictions on residents seeing their loved ones or restricting visits, COTA said.

“Older Australians are at risk of a ruined Christmas with a minority of rogue aged care providers still preventing them from seeing their loved ones, or excessively restricting visiting,” the COTA statement said.

Speaking to HelloCare today, Yates said that most providers are allowing visitors now, but restrictions are so tight they are impossible. For example, visits limited to between noon and 3pm on weekdays mean anyone who works can’t go.

These tight restrictions are not just in Victoria, Yates said. Aged care homes are “throwing away the key” for “too long,” he said.

Only tier 1 restrictions should apply

Given there is no community transmission in Australia (at the time of writing), aged care providers must follow the Visitation Guidelines for Residential Aged Care Facilities advice relating to Tier 1, Craig Gear, CEO of OPAN, told HelloCare. 

This tier requires “limited” restrictions on visits and “appropriate screening and monitoring” of residents entering the home.

“Every single provider across Australia should be working at that level,” Gear urged.

“Balancing social and family interaction is the priority,” said LASA’s manager of policy and advocacy, Tim Hicks.

Providers must make sure visits can take place across a range of times such as on weekends, early evening, and over the Christmas holidays.

Gear said, “There is no recommendation for older people in residential aged care to go into quarantine anywhere in Australia at this point of time, and even if there was COVID-19 in the community, those directives should only come from a hospital medical officer or public health unit.”

Visits needed “more than ever”

Craig Gear, CEO of OPAN, told HelloCare that under the Charter of Aged Care Rights, older people “have the right to have control over and make choices about their care, and personal and social life” and this includes when their choices involve some “personal risk”.

In keeping with this, COTA warned providers that “residents have a right to spend part of their Christmas with family.”

“These rights must be respected,” Yates said.

Not allowing aged care residents to leave their facility on Christmas Day and “ordering” them to go into quarantine afterwards would be “a clear breach of the Charter of Aged Care Rights and the Aged Care Quality Standards”, Gear told HelloCare.

Yates told HelloCare the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission is pursuing these matters “vigorously”.

If providers don’t offer visits and outings in line with guidance, COTA is “not afraid to name and shame” those who are “needlessly isolating” older people, he said.

Aged care residents should have the right to choose

“Christmas is about spending time with the people we care about and sharing moments that bring us joy,” Gear told HelloCare.

“For many Australians, this Christmas will be their first opportunity to spend time with their loved ones this year, and it’s a chance for them to reconnect after months spent apart or with less contact. 

“This is vital for people’s emotional wellbeing.”

If you have experienced providers banning residents from leaving their residential aged care home on Christmas Day or excessive restricting of visitors to aged care, you can contact OPAN for assistance on 1800 700 600.

Image: Dobrila Vignjevic, iStock.

 

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  1. As Residential Aged Care Facilities are NOT places of civil detention , this is unlawful restraint. There is nothing in the Aged Care Act that allows for this restrictive practice unless there is a significant Health order in place. That managers/operators consistently abuse their power over residents and families has long been a source of great distress. Most managers have no idea of their legal and ethical responsibilities.

  2. Hi Caroline, we recommenced family outings in September when advised that this was now permitted. What many people do not know is that the provider is held accountable for the resident even when that person is taken out by their family. We are obligated to ensure that the resident will not be exposed to unnecessary risks and as such we are required to screen every outing prior to them happening. We need to show that we have taken the steps necessary such as asking a series of questions around safe physical distancing, general hygiene, exposure to people who may be of higher risk due to their travels, have the people that the resident will be with received their flu shot etc.

    Maybe this is why some other providers are still preventing outings as they cannot (none of us actually can) ensure that the resident will be kept safe once they leave the facility.

    I think that it is important that people like Ian Yates stop making threats and start working with providers as I very much doubt any provider makes such decisions lightly and COTA should step up and advocate for the rights of residents to make their own decision on risk and remove the ongoing burden of responsibility on providers associated with family outings.

    Happy to discuss further if you like.

    Frank

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