Here’s what the new aged care industry code means for you

May 12, 2020
Many older Australians prefer to age at home rather than move into a residential care facility. Source: Getty

The aged care sector has been of the worst affected by the strict coronavirus restrictions, with many choosing to go into ‘lockdown’ to protect their residents. As national restrictions gradually begin to ease, there is still some confusion around who is able to visit loved ones in aged care homes and when you can and can’t visit.

With conflicting information, it quickly became apparent that more guidance was needed around aged care home visitation rights. Addressing the media on May 1, 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, 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 new industry code, backed by 13 aged care peak bodies and consumer advocacy organisations, has been released today, 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.

“Throughout March and April, we heard many hundreds of reports about the balance being wrong as many providers locked down complete,” Ian Yates, the chief executive of COTA said. “This could not be sustainable over the longer term, as National Cabinet said. A way through was needed, so we suggested than an industry code be developed to ensure consistent, fair, transparent and accountable guidelines for all facilities across the country to follow.

“The many hundreds of submissions we received on last week’s draft of the code showed the widespread report for this approach and overwhelming support for an approach based on the human rights of residents.”

Here’s what it means for you if you wish to visit a loved one in an aged care home.

Can I visit a loved one in aged care?

Yes, you can. But it’s recommended that you communicate with the aged care home to coordinate a mutually-agreeable time for visiting ahead of time. According to COTA, the chief body representing the ageing population, the wishes of the residents will be “at the centre of all decision making” when it comes to who visits them, and their choices will be respected. “Many aged care homes are asking visitors to use a booking system in order to manage the number of visitors in their facility at any one time,” Yates said. “This also provides the opportunity for staff to clean a designated visiting area in-between visits.”

What if the aged care home won’t allow me to visit?

The objective of the code is to provide an agreed industry approach to ensure aged care residents are given the opportunity to receive visitors during the pandemic, while minimising the risk of its introduction to, or spread within, a residential care home. However, if you are still having trouble visiting your loved one, or if the residential care facility is still not allowing guests, the code includes a suggested complaint process to follow.

First, you should speak with the manager of the home and be specific about what you’re asking for why you’re asking for it. If you still aren’t getting anywhere and need support, you can call Older Persons Advocacy Network (OPAN) on 1800 700 600 or visit the website to receive support and advice from a trained advocate. OPAN will support you in speaking with the manager of the aged care home or contact the home to advocate on your behalf, with your permission.

If you are not happy with the decision of the home (or at any time), you can make a complaint to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission by calling 1800 951 822 at any time or by visiting their website.

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