Aged care industry representatives have endorsed the Royal Commission’s recommendations to protect against the spread and ongoing health impact of COVID-19, declaring connections between seniors’ care and healthcare are broken.
Responding to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety into the impact of COVID-19 on aged care, Aged and Community Services Australia chief executive Pat Sparrow commended the six official recommendations to deal with the ongoing pandemic.
“The interface between aged care and the health system has been broken for some time,” she said.
“Older people should not have health care rationed.
“The Medicare benefits schedule numbers and improved hospitalisation policy as proposed by ACSA will be big steps forward if implemented.”
Immediately accepted by the Australian Government, the inquiry special report called for additional funding to allow residents to have visitors and requirements for infection control officers, an increase to funding for mental health and allied health services, a national plan, and an advisory body for the sector.
It noted the unprecedented impact of the pandemic.
“Never before has the aged care sector in Australia faced a challenge like COVID-19,” the report said.
“Now is not the time for blame. We are left in no doubt that people, governments and government departments have worked tirelessly to avert, contain and respond to this human tragedy.
“The nation needs to know what is being done, and what will be done, to protect those people receiving aged care services.”
It provides a detailed outline of the events, and the government response, which has included $1.5 billion in funding.
But it continued to call for an overarching plan specific to the sector, detailing the national plan that has been adapted for the industry over time.
The Aged Care Guild, representing major providers, said the sector would continue to work together to ensure the response was contemporary and had adapted to the lessons already learned.
“Throughout this worldwide pandemic, there will be examples of care in some aged care homes that do not meet expectations,” the Guild said in a statement.
“These must be balanced against the overwhelming majority of residents and employees who have been kept safe and secure.
“The devastating impacts of the virus on senior Australians living in aged care homes is a direct reflection of widespread transmission in surrounding communities; it is not an issue isolated to aged care. The entire health care system, of which aged care is part of, has been overrun.”
They pointed to the 360,000 aged care workers “who have been – and remain – on the frontline, working tirelessly to safeguard our most vulnerable people during the COVID-19 pandemic”.
The royal commission was well underway when the COVID-19 pandemic struck earlier this year, with its massive impact on aged care.
The COVID-19 hearings were added to the inquiry in May, ahead of the community outbreaks in Victoria.
At the time of publication, almost three-quarters of the deaths in Australia were in aged care, a figure high by international standards.
It highlighted not only the ongoing health and mental health impact on residents, but also on staff.
“The Interim Report noted that the aged care workforce is under-resourced and overworked,” it said.
“It is now also traumatised. Care workers develop close relationships with residents. Many are grieving for residents who have died after contracting COVID-19. Others are anxious about bringing the virus into their work place or home to their loved ones.”
Responding to the report’s release, Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck said the “constructive” input would be adopted in full.
He announced $40.6 million to bring forward the serious incident response teams and additional upskilling for nurses in aged care.
The Government must report its progress on the report to parliament by December 1.