Protecting older Australians: COVID-19 update 19 March 2020

Information about restrictions on entry into residential aged care facilities, temporary measures to ensure a strong aged care workforce, update from the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner, and care in the home.

Date published:
Health sector

Welcome to the second edition of the Daily COVID-19 update to protect older Australians.

As foreshadowed and now (hot of the press) announced temporary visa measures have been put in place to help release the strain on the aged care sector. Ongoing support for workforce continuity in the face of COVID-19 is critical and there will be more announcements from the government in coming days to address this.

The Australian Government today announced restrictions on entry into residential aged care facilities (RACFs) to manage outbreaks of coronavirus. Avoidance of exposure is the single most important measure for preventing COVID-19 in RACFs, and we are grateful for your support in helping to protect some of our most vulnerable Australians.

In this edition we have tried to address some of the specific questions around flexibility of arrangements for care in the home. There will be more information to come for in-home care workers, rest assured we are alert to the specific needs of this essential workforce.

Thank you for your continued support in protecting older Australians from COVID-19.

Restrictions on entry into RACFs

The Australian Government has announced restrictions on entry into RACFs to manage outbreaks of coronavirus. Avoidance of exposure is the single most important measure for preventing COVID-19 in RACFs, and to protect vulnerable Australians.

Some visitors and staff (including visiting workers) should not be permitted to enter RACFs. They are those:

  • who have returned from overseas in the last 14 days
  • who have been in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the previous 14 days
  • with fever or symptoms of acute respiratory infection symptoms (for example, cough, sore throat, runny nose, shortness of breath)
  • who have not been vaccinated against influenza (after 1 May 2020)

RACFs should implement measures for restricting visits and visitors to reduce the risk of transmission to residents. They are to:

  • limit visits to a short duration
  • limit visits to a maximum of 2 visitors at 1 time per day; these may be immediate social supports (family members, close friends) or professional service or advocacy
  • make sure visits are conducted in a resident’s room, outdoors, or in a specific area designated by the RACF as opposed to communal areas where risks of transmission is greater
  • make sure no large group visits or gatherings occur, including social activities
  • make sure no school groups of any size visit
  • only permit children aged 16 years and under to visit by exception and assessed on a case-by-case basis; for example, where the resident is in palliative care.
  • encourage all visitors to practise social distancing, maintaining a distance of 1.5 metres

Measures such as phone or video call must be accessible to all residents to enable more regular communication with family members. Family and friends should be encouraged to maintain contact with residents by phone and other social communication apps, as appropriate.

These additional measures should be implemented in order to better protect residents and prompt individuals entering the RACF to consider their current state of health prior to entry. Both individuals and management need to take responsibility for the health of visitors and staff at facilities to protect our most vulnerable community members.

The recommendations may be altered according to the particular circumstance of the resident, including those who are in palliative care or residents in dementia units, which should be considered on a case-by-case basis. These situations will likely necessitate increased social contact with visitors

Read Senator The Hon Richard Colbeck’s full statement.

Temporary measures to ensure a strong aged care workforce

The Australian Government is putting in place temporary visa measures to help fill critical staff shortages and ensure the aged care sector continues to have a strong and viable workforce.

Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians Senator the Hon Richard Colbeck announced today that aged care providers will temporarily be able to offer more hours to international students to ensure the care of senior and vulnerable Australians, as part of the campaign to combat the impact of coronavirus.

These changes expand existing temporary arrangements relaxing visa work conditions to the aged care sector, applying to both residential and home care. Support for workforce continuity in the face of COVID-19 challenges is critical as we plan for a scenario where a large part of the workforce may not be able to come to work.

These are temporary measures and are solely designed to address any staff shortages caused by COVID-19. Providers will ensure all staff are adequately trained.

The measures will be administered by the Department of Home Affairs and are available to approved providers of, or services funded to provide, Australian Government-funded aged care services, only for existing employees in their existing roles. Providers can register with the Department of Home Affairs if they are believe they are eligible and the changes will assist them. 

The Government will continue to work closely with the sector to ensure we have the strongest possible workforce in place as we deal with this extraordinary health challenge.

Read the the Ministers' full statement.

Update from the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner

Proportionate risk-based regulatory response to COVID-19 (coronavirus)

The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission (ACQSC) is taking a proportionate risk-based approach in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. ACQSC will always act in the best interests of people who receive aged care services by:

  • focusing our additional effort where it is needed most to ensure that aged care consumers are safe, by concentrating on services where we identify elevated risk to safe, quality care
  • being flexible in considering adjustments to our routine regulatory activities and program so as to avoid putting untimely demands on providers
  • supporting providers and fulfilling our duty of care to Commission staff

Read an overview of the ACQSC’s regulatory approach in response to COVID-19. Key elements of the updated regulatory response are to closely monitor the situation and to calibrate a response in line with its assessment of risk (across the sector and by provider), incorporating the latest advice from the Department of Health and other health authorities. As always, ACQSC’s priority continues to be to protect and enhance the safety, health, wellbeing and quality of life of aged care consumers.

Care in the home

The guidelines for delivering care in the home in an emergency are flexible, and we are working with providers to ensure they understand these emergency provisions. The goal is to ensure home support providers are fully supported to meet the changing needs of care recipients as this pandemic unfolds.

Assessment for aged care services in an emergency are flexible.

Care recipients with Home Care Packages have flexibility with how they spend their funds, and can also access the Commonwealth Home Support Programme in an emergency. The government is working to ensure this flexibility extends over a wide range of care services to support people to stay safe and healthy in their homes.

The Government will ensure home support providers have increased scope to allocate their funds to the services needed most in the community. Home support providers can currently reallocate up to 20% of their funds between the different services they deliver. In order to help manage the changing client needs associated with the COVID-19 virus, we will allow providers full flexibility to reallocate funding between their services as this virus unfolds.

Home support providers will not be penalised if they do not hit service delivery targets because of the impact of COVID-19 on their services. We have existing discretion to ensure that penalties are not applied unreasonably. While all providers will need to monitor their clients and continue to support their needs safely, we will use this discretion if targets are not reached because of COVID-19.

Where service costs increase as a result of COVID-19, home support providers will able to submit unsolicited proposals to us for supplementary grant funding. This is something that we also did recently to support providers affected by the bushfires over the summer.

Coming soon

  • Fact sheets for older Australians and residential aged care workers
  • Rapid response teams where an urgent health response in required
  • Answers to your questions from Friday’s webinar
  • Mechanism for accessing support under the aged care component of the Health Care Plan — we are finalising the process to access grants, funding and resources under the aged care component of the Health Care Plan

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