Aged care visitations are tough but essential

MEMBER for Mallee Anne Webster says new restrictions on aged care visitations are tough but essential.

The Federal Government placed limitations on visits to aged care facilities this week in a growing raft of measures to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus. 

These included capping visits to short, two-person visits once a day, per resident, while those who have been overseas in the past two weeks or have been in contact with someone with coronavirus, or with respiratory infection symptoms have been barred completely. 

Visits are also restricted to rooms, outdoor or specific areas designated by providers, while children should not visit aged care centres at all.

Those in aged care centres and above 80 have been identified as being most at risk in the community, with the new restrictions aimed at limiting the opportunities for potential transmission. 

With these restrictions applying to aged care centres across the Mallee, Dr Webster said they "may seem tough", but are "essential" to limit the exposure of the region's most vulnerable to COVID-19. "These measures have been put in place by the Federal Government to minimise the risk to those in aged care facilities," Dr Webster said.
"We know that those over 80 are most at risk in the community. 

"We want to ensure that we can keep them as safe as possible from the virus by minimising the risk of exposure."

Large group visits or gatherings, including social activities or entertainment should also be ruled out until further notice.

Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians Senator Richard Colbeck said the tough measures were the best way of protecting older and vulnerable Australians in care.

"None of this is easy, but we are facing an extraordinary health challenge and we need to work together to protect the Australians most vulnerable to COVID-19," Mr Colbeck said.

"We know the risk of serious illness and death increases with age.

"There is currently no vaccine so preventing exposure is the single most important step we can take."

Mr Colbeck said providers should use discretion when dealing with family of residents in palliative care, with decisions on visitation to be made on a case-by-case basis.

"Social distancing measures will still apply for families of loved ones in end-of-life phase," Mr Colbeck said. 

"However, providers are expected to show compassion and make sensible decisions on a case-by-case basis."

He said the decision to stop children visiting was difficult but necessary.

"We know older Australians love to see children in their lives, but the fact is, children are not reliable when it comes to practicing the good hygiene necessary to stop the spread," he said.

Aged care providers will be asked to ensure video calls are available to all residents to enable them to stay in contact with their loved ones.

The government has also advised residential aged care facilities consider screening all visitors for signs of COVID-19, including taking temperatures.

Hand washing facilities and alcohol-based rub must be made available at the main entrance and at the entrance to each resident's room.

Mr Colbeck said the welfare of senior of Australians in care would remain a priority in the ongoing response to the outbreak.

"If you don't absolutely have to go to support a resident in care, please don't," he said.

"No one should be entering an aged care facility if they have returned from overseas in the last 14 days.

"No one should be entering an aged care facility if they have been in contact with someone who has COVID-19 in the last 14 days.

"And no one should be entering an aged care facility or if they have symptoms of an acute respiratory infection, including a cough, sore throat or shortness of breath.

"This applies to visitors and this applies to staff."

Mr Colbeck said any member of the aged care workforce who have been overseas or had contact with somebody with the virus should isolate for 14 days and get tested.

He said sick leave policies must also support aged care workers to stay home.

A 24-hour Coronavirus Health Information Line, run by healthdirect, has been set up for public enquiries at 1800 020 080.