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Under a new visitation concept, aged care residents can nominate a person to visit them in the event of a COVID-19 lockdown.

Essential visitor scheme endorsed by peaks

A new scheme to allow visitors into aged care homes through a COVID-19 lockdown has been drafted in the wake of mounting reports of residents being left in extended isolation. 

The Council on the Ageing (COTA) announced an essential visitors concept in a call to renew the industry visitation codes.

Under the arrangement, every aged care resident in Australia can nominate one fully vaccinated visitor to see them at least once a week, regardless of public health orders.

The chief executive of COTA Ian Yates said that he has regularly received word of residents being sent into weeks of isolation without any contact with family or time outside.

“We are hearing constantly of cases of people effectively contravening the human rights of residents as if they are not people,” Yates told Aged Care Insite. 

“Sometimes we see what I would call nominal conformity, where a provider would let visitation but only on certain days or times.

“It’s deeply concerning that at this stage in the pandemic we are still seeing some aged care providers not following the Industry Code for Visiting Residential Aged Care Homes and doing the wrong thing.”

Currently, residents in NSW are permitted to have two fully vaccinated visitors per day, and up to five people can enter an aged care facility in Victoria.

In a statement, Victorian health authorities said that individual facilities can have their own entry rules but “strongly recommend” that visitors arrive fully vaccinated.

According to Yates, the provision of “inconsistent” public health orders are partly responsible for facilities not following the industry visitation code. 

“In some health areas, providers tell me that on any consecutive day they can get contradictory responses from a primary health unit, and I have had a series of those in NSW,” he said.

“Some of it is providers who do not get the balance right between the medium term physical, emotional, psychological wellbeing of their residents, versus the risk of catching covid.”

Along with the physical health risks, the emotional toll of successive lockdowns and the threat of outbreaks on residential aged care residents have been enormous.

A national survey looking at the mental health impacts of the pandemic showed that nearly half of residents had experienced an increase in anxiety and depression.

Efforts to facilitate safe, in-person visits in the event of a lockdown would help reprieve any further psychological risks, said Yates.

“We are at a reduced risk scenario compared to last year, but we’re not seeing the recognition of the huge damage happening to large numbers of people having been locked away and having emotional connection cut off,” he said.

“People have got depressed, and they are never going to come out of that depression.

“These things are real, they are just as real as getting COVID-19.”

The essential visitors plan has received a positive response from NSW and Victorian health authorities, according to Yates.

The idea has also been endorsed by peak bodies including Leading Aged Service (LASA) and Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA).

COTA plans to take the renewed code to the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee after public consultation.

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