Protecting the health and wellbeing of vulnerable older Australians living in nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic requires the right numbers of staff with the right level of skills, according to the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation’s (ANMF) latest COVID-19 guideline on the principles for safe and compassionate entry into nursing homes.
Acknowledging the strain placed on the aged care sector’s ability to provide care amid COVID-19, and noting that not all residential aged care providers have been able to strike a balance between protecting residents from contracting the virus and maintaining their social, emotional and psychological needs, the ANMF argues both providers and governments must provide sufficient supports and resources to meet all needs of residents during the pandemic, headed by safe staffing and skill mix.
To achieve safe and quality care, the ANMF says every facility must have registered nurses on duty on every shift; sufficient numbers of experienced care workers; and sufficient additional staff to undertake screening procedures and any other safety measures, including testing and improved infection control processes needed to ensure safe visiting conditions for families and loved ones.
The guidelines cover four key areas:
- Ensure safe staffing
- Implement safe screening procedures and protections for visitors
- Implement safe screening procedures and protections from COVID-19 for staff
- Provide open and transparent communication with residents, their families, and loved ones regarding COVID-19
To ensure safe staffing, the ANMF proposes a number of measures, including retaining the current workforce and increasing hours for part-time, casual and temporary staff, increasing the skills of the current workforce to assist in the prevention of COVID-19 infection, and recruiting nurses who have volunteered to return to the workforce to assist with the outbreak.
Graduate nurses and second and third year undergraduate nursing students should also be employed where appropriate and with adequate support.
As nursing homes confront the increased demand generated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the ANMF advises broad safe screening procedures and protections for both visitors and staff.
Measures include screening and assessment of potential infection risks based on current best evidence; limiting visits to a short duration and limiting the number of visitors in accordance with national advice, and facilitating digital communications for residents, such as video and telephone calls with loved ones.
The ANMF recognises that if staff or residents become infected with COVID-19, it is appropriate to limit access into nursing homes in accordance with all government directives and health practices.
For staff, the guidelines emphasise the need to have adequate supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) at every facility, along with evidence-based training for correct use and disposal, plus access to testing and if necessary, paid pandemic leave for staff required to self-isolate due to exposure to COVID-19.
The guidelines also call for aged care providers to communicate with residents and families about COVID-19 as it unfolds, including discussing the progress of the pandemic and its impact on the facility, and providing clear information, such as fact sheets, on what action the facility is taking to protect residents.
Read the full ANMF COVID-19 Response Guideline #3 – ANMF Principles for Safe and Compassionate Entry into Nursing Homes by clicking here