The face of aged care could change as we know it, an expert has claimed, as providers are forced to step away from the norm and embrace alternative methods of care amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Over the past couple of months facilities across the country have been forced to apply restrictions, including limiting the number of visitors allowed and enforcing further health and safety measures to keep Australia’s most vulnerable protected.
The use of technology has increased, communication strategies have changed and families are having to cut back on physical contact with their loved ones. But, according to Group Homes Australia founder, Tamar Krebs, some of these changes aren’t temporary measures and it’s expected they’ll continue into the future.
Krebs said in Group Homes Australia’s facilities, technology is at the forefront of the care of residents during the pandemic. They have created platforms where family members can view notes made about their loved ones throughout the day and group chats to send photos and updates.
“They [families] can see what they’ve [residents] been involved with such as cooking, gardening and going for walks – it’s proof of what they’re doing and how they’re being engaged during this time,” Krebs said. “We also use FaceTime to connect residents with their families while social distancing is in place. Even for those who suffer from dementia this can be beneficial. They may not understand the screen or how it works, but their family can still see their face and interact with them.”
Some of these measures are relatively new in aged care facilities, however, Krebs said she wouldn’t be surprised if providers choose to keep them in place even once restrictions have eased further.
“I think the technology introduced to aged care will continue,” she said. “We’ve seen it’s been especially beneficial for family living overseas to stay in touch. It’s not the same as being able to give them [loved one] a hug – and human touch is always better than technology – but it does help.”
Not only that, Krebs said the coronavirus may help to strengthen the relationship between the government and aged care providers. She said the decision to lift restrictions on student visas has been “incredible” in helping to solve the staff crisis in facilities across Australia and hopes politicians will consider this when making future recommendations.
In a bid to combat the impact of coronavirus and relieve some pressure on aged care facilities, providers are temporarily allowed to offer more hours of work to international students. Usually most international students are restricted to 40 hours of work a fortnight however, amid the Covid-19 outbreak the government has relaxed those limits to help fill staff shortages.
“I’m hoping the government, before they put restrictions back on, they stop and think ‘we solved the staffing crisis, what can we do now’,” Krebs said. “I’m hoping there’s some really good thinking and good learning from Covid-19.”
However, she said it’s unfortunate that the aged care sector has been given a “really bad rap” amid the pandemic. Recently Prime Minister Scott Morrison called on providers to abide by government guidelines and not enforce higher restrictions unless absolutely necessary after it was revealed some aged care homes, including Bupa-run facilities, had gone into complete lockdown.
“National Cabinet stressed the AHPPC advice that it’s not acceptable for any facility to put in place restrictions beyond the principles agrees on 17 March 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.”
Since then a new industry code has been released, backed by 13 aged care peak bodies and consumer advocacy organisations, creating a nationally consistent approach that ensures residents can receive visitors while still minimising the risk of spreading the virus. The code has been implemented to both protect and respect aged care residents and their visitors and also acknowledges the work that providers and staff are doing to keep people safe throughout the pandemic.
But despite the initial backlash against aged care facilities from some, Krebs has thrown her support behind the actions of aged care facilities and said providers did the right thing to protect Australia’s elderly and the hardworking staff taking care of them.
“If we look at the UK and Italy and America – in aged care it [the coronavirus] spreads like wildfire,” she said. “In Australia we’ve managed to keep it out of aged care, some have positive cases and unfortunately some lives have been lost, but overall we’ve done a really good job.” She added: “There’s still some work to be done in aligning the government and aged care.”
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