Jan 10, 2022

Residents should be able to opt-out of ‘cruel’ nursing home lockdowns

Residents should be able to opt-out of nursing home lockdown isolation

Appearing on 3AW radio yesterday, Paul Sadler, CEO of Aged Care Services Australia (ACSA) spoke candidly with host Tony Jones about the dire need for rule changes regarding COVID-19 outbreaks in aged care

“We understand why the public health authorities – who are the ones who tell care providers what to do in the context of an outbreak – we understand why they say [lock residents down], but we don’t think that’s sustainable long-term for the mental health of older people,” said Mr Sadler.

Radio host Tony Jones then asked Mr Sadler if giving aged care residents and their families the ability to assess risk themselves and opt-out of isolation and back into integration is an option that should be considered.

“I’m talking to a number of CEOs of major aged care organisations who are saying exactly the same [thing] to me, and they don’t think this is tenable to keep locking people up.”

Mr Sadler continued, “Sometimes, families don’t have all the stories about all the information about what the person’s physical health condition might be. So I think it’s always got to be a discussion between the aged care providers, staff – particularly the nurses – and what the family and the resident want to do.”

Mr Sadler revealed to listeners that his mother is currently living in a Tasmanian nursing home that has recently gone into lockdown, and that they had been talking about the daunting realities of being confined to one room and unable to mix with other people.

Radio host Tony Jones then asked Mr Sadler if locking residents down was simply the ‘easy option’ for health officials? 

“I think there’s some truth to that,” said Mr Sadler. “We can understand why aged care providers and public health authorities are really, really conscious of the need to protect older people from a dangerous disease.”

“We’re now calling for some clear guidelines that balance infection control risk, with the ability for older people to socialise with their families, and with other residents.”

Radio host Tony Jones echoed Mr Sadler’s call for change and ended the conversation with his own succinct, but sadly apt, assessment of the current situation for aged care residents.

“I suggest there’s no easy fix for it, but something’s got to be done because it’s just, it’s bordering on the cruel what is actually happening with these people at the moment.” 

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  1. Well the good news is that you won’t have to worry about some residents “mental health” because they will most likely be dead. Nursing homes don’t willy nilly lock up their clients, they do so to keep them safe.
    Articles like this just waste paper.

    1. No it’s not, it opens the discussion “that the residents are one big family and should be able to mingle or stay in room….choice!”

    2. I work in aged care and I am not alone in being horrified by the options given to nursing homes in managing a covid outbreak. There is no consideration for the mental well being of the residents or family.
      It’s really scary if this becomes reality.
      The government seems to be driving this

  2. I think it’s time that aged care providers and facilty managers implemented a measured approach to visitors within the care homes. RAT tests, PPE measures and utilising garden spaces for visits. It’s incomprehensible to accept another year of families being separated. The mental health and well-being has to be considered as an important aspect of care.

  3. I am hoping this issue gains some notice from the media. Why are residents of aged care held to different standards than the community? Locked down since Christmas > 14 days this is longer than for the general community as a close contact. With some asymptomatic workers being told to go to work now working in PPE there seems to be no answer to how to staff these facilities. The physical and mental health effects are long standing with increase in hospital utilisation due to deterioration in function. This will ultimately increase strain on the health system.

  4. Folk in aged care should be able to choose. Some of them have been through so much through their lives, and most are able to think for themselves…even then, I am sure a daughter/son will mostly know how their parent would choose to live. I think instead of telling people…ask. Communication

  5. There definitely needs to be some change made as we deal with covid..I live in Tasmania and we had a state free of this vile covid and lives were normal here UNTIL the borders were open. I have a husband and he is in an aged care facility that has recently locked down. He has lewy body dementia and is practically at palliative care stage and is allowed no visitors..I am broken..he doesn’t deserve to die without family with him..my other option is to bring him home and care for him, be with him until the end.

    1. Every home has visitor exemptions for palliative end of life situations,if your husband is near death you can be with him.

    2. We are living through the same thing, Denise. My heart goes out to you. Our dear parents truly deserve so much better. It is so horrible to know they are suffering, denied the only thing that is important at this stage – their connection to family. It’s distressing to feel so powerless to help those we love.

  6. I really believe this is uncalled for. How would you like to be locked up in ONE room day after day. Come on, these people built the country, and they are HUMAN BEINGS. This is cruel, i think an elderly man or woman, would rather die holding their child’s hand than to die alone after being locked up for weeks. This is real torture and you know it. Same should apply to hospitals, it’s WRONG. I wonder how these people making the rules would like it if their mother or father was in that situation??????

  7. It is time for Australia to accept that it is not always possible to stop their aged loved ones from getting sick, the aged are frail and will always be susceptible. My father-in-law is in lock down again but the RAC he resides in has a large outdoor area with shade and seating. Why can he not be brought outside, and we enter the building from an outside entry and we meet there with the appropriate PPE equipment and RATs. Surely he and his family have the right, under the notion of Dignity of Risk, to make an informed decision and be allowed to visit. His mental health, at this stage of his life, is much more relevant. He is vaccinated and so are we all!

  8. I think that it is ‘cruel’ especially for the Covid negative people, but the positive ones also need interaction with others including family. I don’t think that the two groups should be able to interact if the nursing home has both categories or if prospective visitors could be Covid positive.
    With today’s technology physical contact isn’t as important. The staff need ‘breathing space’ and with many becoming infected, everyone suffers with the extra understaffing.
    Commonsense should prevail, this disease can kill the vulnerable.

  9. The difference between community and aged care facilities appears pretty simple to me. It’s their vulnerability, many residents are confined to bed or unable to move of their own free will and they might be determined to stay alive . It’s their very vulnerability that makes it so important that infected periods are long enough to see the back of the contagious period.
    If you risk infection to one resident that is prepared to catch covid, and their family is also okay with that possibility then that’s one thing but what happens when that resident goes back inside the facility and walks among other residents and then they catch it! What of them? Is that acceptable to anyone? Not me because facilities are here to keep all clients safe from hunger,disease etc ..even from themselves sometimes.
    The vast majority of residents have no comprehension that covid even exists, a huge proportion of residents don’t recall if they had a visitor or not and that is what a few people just don’t understand.

    The anxiety is more prevalent in the visitors than the residents.

  10. Absolutely agree. My Father is 94 yesrs of age and has recently been in hospital who advised us that he probably won’t see another Christmas due to kidney failure. Whilst he has frequent urine infections, mentally he is still very cognitive and looks forward to family visits and his weekly trip to the park to feed the birds. The nursing home he is residing in is on lockdown so he is no longer able to have his weekly visits to the park because one other resident has Covid. This is an infringement on his rights and is more likely to contract Covid by staying in the nursing home. It us so important for older people to get the social stimulation they so deserve and the opportunity to feel the sun on their face and the wind in their hair, especially when every day gets closer to their last day. Locking people up is like being in prison. My Dad will not be at any risk going to the park where he is in the fresh air away from others. My Father has lived through bombings in London, lead an active life, been a good Dad and husband, is respected by many and this is how he has to spend his last days.I feel so sad for him and the thousands of other older people this is happening to.

  11. My mother is 92 and in complete lockdown in her room. There are currently no active cv cases in her NH (just one staff member had tested positive last week) and now they are all waiting for their second PCR test results. All staff art double masked and wear PPE, and hate it! And many regular staff are absent, either for declining the jabs or in isolation as close contacts of positive cases. Mum has always been a very sociable person and this is so difficult for her. She only sees staff when meals are delivered or medications are given. Phone calls, TV, Music and DVDs are helping her hang in there. She is even playing Scrabble – herself against her ‘other self’, lol! I have instructed her to do stretching exercises and to walk back and forth around her room with her walker, as she can no longer go to exercise classes or have physio support. I pray these strict lock down rules will be amended soon for both her/their mental and physical well being. 😪

  12. Could not agree more. Government, read the new standards. What you are asking our residents to do goes against YOUR requirements. Come into an aged care home and listen to the residents say “I am the boss”. “You can’t keep me locked up”. The staff cop the abuse from residents, families, we accept this, take it in our normal day, cause that is what we do, whether an RN, career, support worker or administration. We all do our bit for our residents because we love what we do and the generation we work for, especially when a lockdown is declared. Prior to COVID, lockdowns were an effective tool for breaking the chain. COVID arrived, the government sold us on keeping the residents “safe”. Then the vaccinations first two doses, now the booster. We all did that resident and staff alike. Families can’t visit unless they have been vaccinated. But that doesn’t give us 100% protection. So, Government talk to the residents, hear what they have to say, hear they want to go out, see their family. Virtual visits, phone calls only go so far. Help our residents and let them live the life they want.

  13. But if covid “gets in” to a facility, there’s all hell to pay when the quality commission and families blame the provider and believe me, they do. There is no easy answer.

  14. Thank you for writing this. My mother’s aged care facility went into a strict no visitor lockdown ( as directed by Metro South PHU) on 15/12/21 ( with all residents in room isolation for 8 days initially), until 03/01/22. Only exceptions was for imminent end of life visits. My mother is unable to press the call button for help, independently use a phone, read or follow a TV show. I visit my mother every single day ( 8hours) and continue to be an active participant in her personal care. My mother has said that she would rather die than not see me. She spent Christmas alone. “..Our most cruel failure in how we treat the aged is the failure to recognise that they have priorities beyond merely being safe and living longer” Atul Gawande

  15. To leave the elderly without being able to see their closest loved one is a worse risk to their health than a covid infection. It is cruel and amounts to the worst kind of elder abuse!

  16. My mother is in an Aged Care facility in Brisbane which was in lockdown for 3 weeks over Christmas. More than half that time was been spent in room isolation. My mother was alone for Christmas – probably her last Christmas.
    She is living with dementia, so cannot remember to press the call button for help, is unable to independently use the phone to make contact with family, unable to read or watch TV (she can become distressed by her interpretation of what she sees on TV) and is a high fall risk if seated in a chair by herself, so has been confined to bed for the 11 days, not even able to sit near a window.
    I have been an active partner in care, visiting my mother every day, without fail to assist with personal hygiene, exercise and emotional support. Public Health Unit have insisted on a strict no visitor policy, for all 139 residents despite highly variable needs and cognition levels and the reduced risk for residents in the secured Dementia Care Unit, because they do not mix with other residents in the facility. Blanket rules have been enforced by Public Health to protect the hospital systems, without consideration for individual welfare and circumstances.
    The Industry Code for Visiting in Aged Care, updated 22/12/21, because of learnings taken from the past 18 months, advises that even during a Red Alert (a Covid-19 outbreak) a resident should always have access to at least one visitor. (The code defines what constitutes an Essential Visitor and I certainly meet the criteria).
    We all acknowledge and support keeping our vulnerable population safe, however, we cannot continue to use the same strategies of total isolation when we know the disproportionate impact these measures have on our elderly, especially those living with dementia, who lie in their beds confused and highly distressed, calling out for help, going unheard because of alarming staff shortages.
    Residents are suffering, their families are suffering. We appeal for consistent strategies and transparency in QLD Aged Care.

  17. All very easy to criticise, but all it takes is one person and omicron can spread very easily. Even double vaxed and boostered people will be vulnerable at their age. And the same people who say think about the mental health of the residents will be saying how could you have let this happen and start pointing fingers. Its not an easy problem to solve, but some sort of visitation in outdoor areas with N95 masks and proper social distancing may be an option. The problem is there are a lot of irresponsible people out who don’t social distance, who lower their masks or don’t get tested. My supervisor got covid recently and the symptoms didn’t really show up for a few days. In an aged-care facility that could be a death sentence for somebody.

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