Restrictions are being eased in aged care, but is it a good idea?

May 16, 2020
Restrictions are being eased in aged care facilities, but there are some things we should keep in mind, an expert has said. Source: Getty

The risks are extreme yet real. The balancing act is hard to achieve yet necessary. How do we best protect the health and safety of our beloved aged care residents amid the clear and present threat of Covid-19, whilst ensuring their quality of life including connection with loved ones?

For several weeks aged care providers have implemented preventative measures across their facilities to minimise the potential outbreak of coronavirus in care environments. The extent of these measures has varied somewhat in relation to visitor access. This week, to help minimise the confusion, a new industry code was released, providing a nationally consistent approach to visitation at aged care facilities during the pandemic. However, even as regulations for the wider community have been eased, the requirements on aged care services and advice for seniors remain unchanged.

To answer the aforementioned question, we must recognise the importance of certain relationships and understand the risk to people who are already frail, sick and dependent on high levels of care. The relationships that are easily acknowledged are those between a resident and their family. Such connections are vital at all times of life but especially so for those who need care. What perhaps isn’t as well understood is the extent to which some families directly assist residents whilst they’re living in care accommodation.

Other relationships are also of significance when considering how we best support and protect residents, namely that between resident and staff and the association between family and provider. The former is of critical worth to a resident – a trusted connection with staff provides immense confidence and peace of mind for a resident, indeed often joy and love.

Of course, the absence of such a connection between resident and staff can be very troubling. We need to look to these trusted relationships to drive the engagement for residents, their connection to life, brightness in their day and the reduction of fear. As has been documented in past times, a broken relationship between a provider and a resident’s family can be hugely destructive. This fracture is underpinned by ineffective or misleading communication, erosion of trust and heightening of concern about the quality of life of a beloved resident.

The opportunity though is for these relationships to be a source of strength in the care and life of a resident. It takes two to tango of course, so both parties need to be willing to engage openly, honestly, regularly and proactively.  Such a relationship must be solely focused on not just the wellbeing of the resident but the empowerment of the resident.

Many voices have been heard about the issue of visiting aged care homes. Government leaders at all levels have spoken – accurately and otherwise, industry regulators, advocacy groups, providers, media commentators (some who previously have shown no interest in the interests of older people), families, health agencies, the list goes on. One voice hasn’t been properly heard yet and it’s the most important voice of all – that of the person receiving care. To me that is rather symbolic of a failure when we look at the issue of ageing more broadly.  When do we seek and really hear the voice of older people? Not often when it comes to debating the issues that actually affect older people.

We should have visits by people who are important to aged care residents. It should be part of the approach from not just providers but all actors in aged care to ensure residents are engaged with life, connected to the extent that they wish, supported to pursue their priorities and passions and with confidence that they’re being empowered.

Of equal importance though is that, again, all parties play their role in ensuring we’re minimising the risk of bringing a Covid-19 infection into an aged care environment. Be conscious of the catastrophes experienced overseas, be mindful of the tragedies in New South Wales so that we remain vigilant to preventative measures. This becomes even more critical as the wider community comes out of isolation and potentially complacent about health and hygiene and social distancing practices.

Providers need appropriate measures in place at every care home. Visitors must ensure they’re adhering to all the necessary rules both in terms of what they do whilst at a facility and what they do when elsewhere. Providers cannot provide protection alone. Nor can they provide the quality of life alone. It must be something that’s done together. Our older Australians who are sick and frail deserve that we do.

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