‘Whatever we do, we’ve got to do for at least 6 months. 6 months.’
This is what Scott Morrison said today in discussing the controversial issue of school closures. If that is the case, then restrictions he announced today for residential aged care facilities are also likely to apply for months from now. Immediate action and forward planning is crucial for all aged care providers, with residential aged care providers subject to particular urgency.
Less than a week ago (on the day the pandemic was announced by WHO) we released an Alert, ‘Aged care and the COVID-19 pandemic: 10 legal tips for residential aged care providers’. Since then, the situation has continued to rapidly evolve and we have been closely monitoring this.
Communicable Diseases Network Australia (CDNA) Guidelines
Day 1 following the declaration of pandemic, the CDNA issued the following guidelines (‘CDNA National Guidelines for the Prevention, Control and Public Health Management of COVID-19 Outbreaks in Residential Aged Care Facilities in Australia’), which we urge all providers to read.
Federal Government announces visitation restrictions
Today, the Federal Government has declared the following restrictions on all aged care facilities (some of which were already in place) to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 to their residents.
1. The following visitors and staff must not be permitted to enter an aged care facility:
- Those who have returned from overseas in the last 14 days
- Those who have been in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the last 14 days
- Those with fever or symptoms of acute respiratory infection
- After 1 May this year, those who have not been vaccinated against influenza
2. All aged care facilities must implement the following measures:
- Limit timing of visits - Limit to a ‘short duration’ (the PM did not suggest a time limit, however a ‘close contact’ has been defined by the Victorian DHHS as ‘a person who spent two hours or longer in the same room’)
- Limit number of visits – Limit all visits to the facility to a maximum of two visitors at one time per day (the PM indicated this applied whether visitors were immediate social supports such as family and close friends, or ‘professional service’/’advocacy’ workers. ‘Professional service’ and ‘advocacy’ were not defined)
- Location of visits - Visits should be held in a resident’s room, outdoors, or in a specific area designated by the facility – not communal areas
- Restrict large group visits - There should be no large group visits or gatherings to be permitted – including social activities or entertainment (The number of people considered as a ‘large group’ was not defined, although we note the government has placed restrictions on groups of 100 or more indoors, and 500 or more outdoors. ‘Social activities’ and ‘entertainment’ were also not defined - can residents meet one-on-one? What does this mean for meal times?)
- Restrict school visitation - No school groups of any size to be permitted in the facility
- Practice social distancing - Visitors should be encouraged to practice social distancing where possible – ie. maintaining a distance of 1.5m between each other
- Restriction of children visiting by age - Children aged 16 years or less should be visiting only ‘by exception’, as children do necessarily follow hygiene measures and can be dangerously asymptomatic (the PM did not suggest what those exceptions might be)
Providers visitation arrangements in end-of-life situations
Where a resident sadly approaches end of life, providers will have the discretion to put in ‘very strict’ arrangements to enable people to visit their loved ones on a compassionate basis. The PM indicated these rules will need to be made on a facility-by-facility basis, conforming with general principles around social distancing. We recognise this will be a particular challenge for providers if a resident’s end-of-life situation results from COVID-19 infection.
Legal compliance for providers
We acknowledge that many of these measures may impact on a provider’s ordinary ability to comply with the Aged Care Act, Aged Care Quality and Safety Standards, and Charter of Aged Care Rights – however they do not have to mean non-compliance. We are now all living in a new world – and the sooner we all take the necessary precautions, albeit draconian, the sooner we can all return to our old world. Providers should be actively considering alternative ways to provide necessary care and services – such as by telehealth and social activities (including entertainment) via video-streaming.
Staff entitlements for providers
If you need to exclude a staff member from the work, they may or may not be entitled to paid leave, it will depend on the circumstances and, in particular, the reason they are absent and the terms and conditions of their employment.
As indicated above, some of the measures announced today will require further clarity and we are continuing to turn our minds towards potential issues providers are might face, and how we may assist. We will continue to keep the situation under close review and provide updates where necessary, however please do not hesitate to contact any one of our team if you need any advice.
We are here to help
you require any further information regarding COVID-19 please contact Anita Courtney (03) 8602 7211, Anthony Massaro (03) 9609 1501, Libby Pallot (03) 9609 1584, Melanie Tan (03) 9609 1577, Solomon Miller (03) 9609 1650, Donna Rayner (03) 9609 1503 or our expert Aged Care team.
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