Family and friends of people in aged care are being urged to visit their relatives for Christmas with few remaining COVID-19 restrictions in place.
With restrictions eased to the general community requirement of fewer than one person per two square metres in communal areas – plus the ongoing screening processes and temperature checks – residential aged care homes are open for visits.
Aged Care Guild chief executive officer Nicholas Brown said Christmas was a time for family and friends.
“It is essential residents are able to see their loved ones during the holiday season,” he said.
“Currently, we are experiencing very low cases of community transmission and there are no restrictions in aged care, other than standard density limits in place in all public areas.
“Visitation processes and visitation hours should reflect pre-COVID arrangements, while maintaining screening procedures, booking systems in place, and social distancing to ensure all residents can enjoy quality time with their loved ones.”
He said providers could consult the Industry Code for Visiting Residential Aged Care Homes During COVID-19, and it was important to implement the least restrictive visitation response appropriate to their local situation.
“I would also like to take the opportunity to applaud providers and their hard work this year and encourage all loved ones to visit their family and friends in care this holiday season,” he said.
Leading Age Services Australia’s manager of policy and advocacy, Tim Hicks, said Christmas was a critical time for families with traditionally high numbers of visitors.
“Aged care providers want to allow a joyful Christmas for their residents and families after a most challenging year,” he said.
“Supporting residents’ mental and emotional wellbeing is most important, especially at Christmas.
“While vigilance is crucial to save lives in aged care, providers should follow their state and territory health legislation and guidelines against COVID-19 for festive season visits and outings. Balancing social and family interaction is the priority and LASA has worked hard to prepare guidance to enjoy a safe and happy festive season.”
Under the Australian Government requirements, some visitors remain excluded: those who have been overseas in the last 14 days, people who have been in contact with a confirmed case, and those with symptoms including a fever, runny nose, cough, sore throat and shortness of breath.
Aged care facilities are welcoming visitors back.
South Australian aged care operator Kalyra, which runs homes in Belair, Woodcroft and McLaren Vale, has celebrated the ability for residents and families to socialise more freely.
In an online message, Kalyra chief executive officer Sara Blunt said the easing of restrictions in South Australia came just in time for Christmas, but it was important to stay vigilant.
“We will still be wearing masks when giving personal care and encouraging visitors to do so too,” she said in the online message.
“We must remain vigilant, as the world relaxes a bit anticipating a vaccine, holidays and fun we don’t want to let COVID loose like we see overseas – so the message is to keep up the hand washing, social distancing and I’m still going to wear a mask in busy public areas.
“Doing everything we can to nip COVID in the bud every time it pops up in the community is the real key to protecting the vulnerable.”
Anglicare Southern Queensland’s Group Manager for Residential Aged Care Nick Hansen said their previous two-person visitor limit was removed this month and numbers were now determined by the normal visitor rules at each facility.
“It has been a difficult and challenging year for our aged care residents who had their visitation rights restricted to keep them safe from COVID-19,” he said.
“As an organisation that provides essential front line care services for older and vulnerable people, we can assure the community that the wellbeing of our residents, clients and staff is our highest priority.”
Mr Hansen said aged care residents were relishing the time spent with loved ones.
“Residents are enjoying spending time with their loved ones and the many group activities on offer at our aged care homes,” he said.
“I know many of our residents will be looking forward to seeing their loved ones this Christmas.
“Social isolation can have a significant impact on residents’ mental health, so having programs in place that have provided a sense of connection while keeping our residents safe has been really important.”
Physical distancing of more than 1.5 metres and regular hand hygiene remains important to reduce the spread of viruses.
Authorities will continue to update requirements and public health directives as required.
Updated 1st January, 2021:
UPDATED ADVICE FOR VICTORIAN RESIDENTIAL AGED CARE FACILITIES:
Given the emerging status of active COVID cases in the Victorian community, the Department of Health and Human Services Victoria has updated its advice for all Residential Aged Care Facilities within Victoria.
Enhanced measures are now in place for the restriction of visitors and for the screening and testing of residents from nominated geographic areas and identified exposure sites.
- Enhanced screening and testing on admission or return to facility from leave residents having lived in, or visited, Mentone, Mitcham or Hallam OR found to have visited listed exposure sites to be tested and managed as at risk COVID until results known.
- Enhanced attestations and testing of staff living in Mentone, Mitcham or Hallam.
- Those found to have visited exposure sites have access to testing.
- Enhanced measures for workforce mobility. In addition to existing measures, where practicable, staff cohorting within facilities to be implemented.
- All staff to wear surgical masks AND eye protection and all times.
- Tier 3 PPE (including N95 masks) for symptomatic or suspected COVID residents.
Additional visitor restrictions will now be in place for residential aged care facilities:
- Access to 1 visitor at any time, once per day for a maximum of 2 hours.
- Essential care persons: 1 visitor, no time limits apply
- Essential behaviour assistance person: no time limits apply
- Interpreters or informal language support: no time limits apply
- Visitor is being assisted to handover care for discharge: maximum of 2 hours
- Visitor is viewing facility as a potential site to live in: maximum of 2 hours
- End of live: 2 visitors, no time limit.
Residential aged care services may be contacted by Melbourne Pathology (Sonic) offering free, onsite asymptomatic testing. Staff are encouraged to access asymptomatic testing where available to help stop the spread.It is anticipated geographic locations and exposure sites will be updated in coming days. Please monitor the DHHS coronavirus website for the latest information.
Updated 24th December, 2020: The Dept of Health has issued updates in relation to staff and viistors of aged care facilities based in Greater Sydney, including Northern Beaches, Central Coast and Wollongong. There are also updates in relation to Greater Sydney residents visiting regional NSW facilities.