The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) has labelled new restrictions on visits to nursing homes announced today by the Federal Government “out of touch with reality”, arguing a temporary ban must be put in place on all non-essential visits immediately to protect residents during the COVID-19 global pandemic.
In response to the escalating outbreak, the government today released new measures for the aged care sector that restrict entry to visitors in a bid to reduce the risk of transmission to residents.
Restrictions on visitors include:
- Limiting visits to a short duration
- Limiting visits to a maximum of two people (family members, close friends) per resident at one time each day
- Visits should be conducted in a resident’s room, outdoors, or in an area designated by the aged care facility, instead of communal areas to prevent the risk of transmission
- No large group visits or gatherings, including social activities or entertainment
- Children should not visit aged care facilities at all
- Visitors should practice social distancing where possible
- Phone or video calls must be made accessible to all residents to allow more regular communication with family members
The guidelines also stipulate visitors and staff should not be allowed to enter nursing homes if they have returned from overseas in the last 14 days, have been in contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case in the last 14 days, or have fever or symptoms of acute respiratory infection such as a cough, sore throat, runny nose, or shortness of breath.
The government is also asking aged care facilities to advise all regular visitors and staff to practice safe hygiene measures, including social distancing, and to monitor for COVID-19 symptoms, specifically fever and acute respiratory illness.
Additional measures encouraged include screening for fever upon entry.
Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck said the welfare of aged care residents would remain the top priority.
“If you don’t absolutely have to go to support a resident in care, please don’t,” he warned.
But ANMF Acting Federal Secretary Lori-Anne Sharp said the government’s measures show a complete lack of understanding of the reality that currently exists in nursing homes, with clear and consistent messaging now vital to properly protecting residents.
“How are chronically-understaffed facilities, some without a registered nurse, going to supervise visits, to ensure they are of ‘short duration’?” Ms Sharp questioned.
“This is totally unrealistic when we already know that care staff are rushed off their feet trying to meet the basic needs of elderly residents.”
In the wake of three nursing home residents already dying as a result of COVID-19, Ms Sharp called on the government to immediately stop all non-essential visits in aged care to prevent spread and further deaths.
“We are experiencing a global pandemic which requires immediate direct action with messages that are communicated clearly and repeatedly to ensure the community understands.
“With dangerously low numbers of staff on duty in nursing homes, it will be extremely difficult to monitor visitations and ensure that advice on infection control procedures and new social distancing protocols are adhered to.”
Ms Sharp acknowledged a ban would allow for exemptions on certain compassionate grounds for palliative and end-of-life situations.
As the coronavirus pandemic grows, Ms Sharp declared providers must ensure they have enough stockpiles of personal protective equipment (PPE) and hand sanitiser in order to safeguard staff and residents.
“We understand that this is an extremely difficult and worrying time for residents and their loved ones, but if we are to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 and flatten the curve, everyone in the community has a responsibility and must follow the expert advice.”