Am I allowed to visit? The rules around aged care visitation during Covid-19

May 01, 2020
There are strict rules in place for visitation to aged care facilities amid the coronavirus. Source: Getty

The government’s strict guidelines on visiting aged care facilities have made it increasingly difficult to visit your loved ones in care, but that doesn’t mean you can’t see them at all – there’s just some do’s and don’ts you must follow.

Last month Prime Minister Scott Morrison released strict rules for aged care facilities to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 and keep the country’s elderly safe amid the pandemic. Currently, you aren’t allowed to visit loved ones in aged care in large groups and if you’re showing any signs of illness, you’re strictly forbidden from entering the facility at all.

Since then there haven’t been any further restrictions placed on aged care facilities by the government, however, certain institutions have chosen to put a complete lockdown in place. Bupa, which runs more than 70 aged care homes across the country, made the decision late last month to stop all visitors entering its facilities. The company’s managing director Suzanne Dvorak said this was due to the growing risk of Covid-19 infection from people entering care homes. However, she said exceptions would be made for those in palliative care.

However, Morrison recently called on facilities not to implement more strict lockdown rules than what was advised by the government unless absolutely necessary.

“National Cabinet addressed the AHPPC advice that it’s not acceptable for any facility to put in place restrictions beyond the principles agreed on March 17 2020,” he said in a press conference. “These include complete lockdowns or banning all visits from carers and families, other than during a specified facility outbreak.

“Facilities are best placed to know the appropriate levels of infection control and prevention to implement, in consultation with the relevant public health units and the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission. The Commonwealth Government will continue to monitor the situation and will take steps, if necessary, to require facilities to seek an exemption from the commission before implementing additional restrictions.”

Aged care providers and associations such as Leading Age Services Australia (LASA), UnitingCare Australia and the Aged Care Guild have since hit back at claims facilities are separating families from their loved ones, saying that, where necessary, visitation is still allowed on compassionate grounds.

“It’s incorrect to characterise the sector as having kept residents isolated, under lock and key, in their rooms,” a joint statement read. “Nor are there ‘secret places’. There are widespread communications with families, visits at a distance and extensive social media connections.

“Providers who have implemented enhanced resident protections are appealing to people to minimise visits, while providers continue their dedication to maintaining connections with their loved ones in care via a range of alternative and innovative communication channels.

“In line with the National Cabinet’s recommendations, visitation requests for compassionate reasons are being carefully facilitated, in close consultation with residents and families. Our focus remains on continuing the balance of compassionate care with the protection of our residents and staff.”

Addressing the media today, the aged care minister Richard Colbeck announced that all major aged care providers, including Anglicare and BaptistCare, signed up to a new aged care code last night, which sets out rules and rights for people visiting their loved ones at the end of their life, and people who are used to receiving regular visitation as part of their care, such as dementia patients. Colbeck said “only 23 residential aged care homes” have had an outbreak of Covid-19 in Australia.

The prime minister also announced today that the government will be making a one-off payment of $205 million into the aged care sector to help it respond to the crisis and comply with the new industry code.

With so much information and discussion on the topic, when exactly is it okay to visit loved ones in care? And what can you do if you’re being stopped from seeing family in an aged care facility?

When shouldn’t you visit?

 In March this year Morrison announced strict measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and keep the country’s most vulnerable safe from the virus. The National Cabinet agreed on recommendations by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) to enhanced arrangements to protect older Aussies in residential aged care facilities.

You shouldn’t enter a facility if you:

  • Have returned from overseas in the last 14 days
  • Have been in contact with a confirmed case of Covid-19 in the last 14 days
  • Have a fever or symptoms of acute respiratory infection such as a cough, sore throat, runny nose or shortness of breath
  • Haven’t had a flu vaccination.

However, even if you’re fit and well and haven’t recently returned from overseas, the government suggests not visiting unless it’s absolutely crucial. They instead recommend keeping in touch via phone, video call, postcards, and by sending photos, artwork or short videos for your loved ones to watch.

When is it okay to visit?

In some situations, such as if your loved one suffers from dementia, visits from family are necessary to help maintain health and wellbeing. Compassionate access is allowed in certain situations such as, for residents suffering from dementia and during end-of-life cases.

Maree McCabee, the Chief Executive Officer of Dementia Australia, said unexpected changes to routine can have a dramatic impact on the mental health and wellbeing of a person living with dementia, so regular visits are still advised.

“If they’re missing seeing familiar faces or [are] no longer engaging in regular activities, they may become restless and distressed,” she said. “Depending on the progression of the disease, they may not understand why the changes are happening or may not recall why a loved one can’t visit as often.

“The caring contribution made by visiting family members often eases the load of the day-to-day staff, thereby for the person with dementia, reducing feelings of loneliness, stress and anxiety. This in turn perhaps avoids situations escalating that could put them, other residents and staff at risk.”

Meanwhile, COTA Chief Executive Ian Yates said you should be allowed visitation during end-of-life situations, as long as proper hygiene and health measures are followed.

“We have heard too many stories of family barred from seeing their loved ones at the end of their lives,” he said. “There’s no reason why such visits shouldn’t continue with the same stringent health and screening measures as providers currently have in place for their staff.”

What rules must I follow during visits?

If an aged care provider deems it okay for you to visit your loved one in an aged care facility, there are still some rules you must follow. The government has strict guidelines in place for these visits, including:

  • A maximum of two immediate social supports or professional service or advocacy at one time, per day
  • Visits conducted in a resident’s room, outdoors, or in a specific area dedicated by the aged care facility. Communal areas should be avoided
  • No large group visits
  • Social distancing rules followed, such as maintaining a distance of 1.5 metres from resident
  • No children under the age of 16 allowed unless permitted by exemption, e.g. when a resident is in palliative care.

What if a facility says I can’t visit?

 If you’re unhappy with the aged care facility’s actions or are being prevented from visiting a loved one in care, contact the Older Peron’s Advocacy Network on 1800 237 981 or the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission on 1800 951 822.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your financial or legal situation, objectives or needs. That means it’s not financial product or legal advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a financial or legal decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get independent, licensed financial services or legal advice.

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