Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services, Richard Colbeck, has joined aged care peak bodies Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA) and Leading Age Services Australia (LASA) to encourage more visitors to return to residential aged care facilities across Australia.
“We know how important it is for aged care residents to see visitors, such as family, friends and members of their community in person” Minister Colbeck said.
“Personal contact is vital to maintaining the social, emotional and mental wellbeing of residents, reducing their social isolation and loneliness.
“We are also aware of the significant stress on a resident's loved ones due to the extended restrictions over the last two years and new guidance means that visits can become more frequent and supported.
ACSA Chief Executive Officer Paul Sadler said aged care services have been working hard to keep residents connected with their loved ones.
“They know that regular contact is vital for residents and families and integral to maintaining their wellbeing,” Mr Sadler said.
“I am confident services are well-prepared and staff are keen to welcome visitors back in a safe manner.”
Support available for providers to increase visitation includes:
- Access to Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) kits from the National Medical Stockpile (NMS). Providers can use the RATs provided through the forward deployment process announced on 14 February 2022 to screen visitors. RATs from the NMS for this purpose should be provided to visitors free-of-charge;
- Workforce support through the Australian Defence Force (ADF) to assist during an outbreak. Providers can request ADF teams to screen and manage visitors, which will reduce the workload for existing staff. A fact sheet has been released outlining the services which can be provided by ADF teams.
- Clear policy advice through the Interim Guidance on Managing Public Health Restrictions on Residential Aged Care Facilities on taking a least-restrictive, risk-based approach to outbreak management; and
- The Australian Government committed an additional $34.4 million over four years to expand the Community Visitor Scheme (CVS) – now a total investment of $113.99 million. The program expands the number of CVS volunteers to over 17,800 places to support senior Australians with friendship and companionship.
The Department of Health is also currently working with the aged care sector to develop opportunities to actively support the re-engagement of volunteers and to encouraging new volunteers to provide companionship and emotional support to senior Australians.
The "Partners in Care" Program, which provides training in COVID-19 safe practices, infection control and hygiene to enable family to continue visiting their relatives during a COVID outbreak, is being updated for utilisation by all RACFs.
This is a key component of facilitating safe access to visitors during outbreaks.
LASA Chief Executive Officer Sean Rooney said the recent interim guidance released by the Department of Health has made a big difference in how providers and public health units view access by visitors.
“We have seen a reduction in the length of time for lockdowns and isolation, and access by essential visitors is also being supported,” Mr Rooney said.