Balancing safety and wellbeing as visitors return to residential aged care facilities

October 29, 2021

Residents of care facilities will soon be able to welcome up to five visitors per day.

From 6pm Friday 29 October, the Care Facilities Directions will be updated to reflect the following changes:

  • visits will no longer be limited to specified reasons
  • each resident is allowed up to five visitors per day
  • visits by prospective residents are allowed
  • visitors are not required to be vaccinated, however it is strongly encouraged and recommended
  • where visitors are not fully vaccinated, all visits should occur either outdoors or in the resident’s own room(s). Unvaccinated visitors should not remain in common areas.

The Directions will continue to include requirements to support COVIDsafe visits, such as excluding people who are unwell and requirements for visitors to wear masks, check in and make a declaration.

The changes to the Directions reflect advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) about the importance of visits for the wellbeing of aged care residents and the need for restrictions in aged care to be eased.

The VHA recognises the positive impact visitors can have on residents’ mental health and wellbeing, and strongly encourages all aged care visitors to be fully vaccinated to help protect their loved ones.

While the easing of visitor restrictions will be welcome news for many, the updated Care Facility Directions may create challenges for health services that have integrated residential aged care facilities. There is no indication of when visitor restrictions will be eased across the wider health system, with the health service risk rating remaining at COVID Peak (black).

The VHA will continue to advocate for consistent COVID-19 directions across the health system.

Residential aged care facilities can contact the Department of Health Aged Care COVID team with questions.

 

Tips to support COVIDsafe visits

  • Follow the directions about wearing masks indoors, screening visitors and visitor declarations.
  • Support visits to occur in a resident’s room, outdoors or in a specific area rather than communal areas with other residents.
  • Indoor visits should occur in well-ventilated areas. Open windows to provide natural ventilation provided outdoor temperature is suitable.
  • Where visitors are not fully vaccinated, all visits should occur either outdoors or else in the resident’s own room(s). Visitors should not remain in common areas.
  • Remind visitors about safety measures such as hand hygiene and wearing masks properly (by both directly reminding visitors and indirectly such as via signs in the facility reminding visitors about these measures).
  • Practice social distancing where possible and appropriate. Place signage or provide fact sheets to remind visitors of physical distancing requirements.
  • Consider using a booking system and stagger visitor arrivals. This will also assist in managing density quotient requirements.
  • Visitors should be encouraged to wear the same personal protective equipment that staff are required to wear when caring for a resident. At a minimum, visitors should be provided with a surgical mask.
  • Visitors should not visit if they are unwell or meet any of the excluded visitor criteria below.
  • Consider screening visitors upon entry via rapid antigen testing if this is currently regular practice for staff entering your facility.
  • Consider offering staff training or refresher information on how to manage challenging conversations and conflict.

 

Supporting information and resources

The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission has developed a range of information and resources for the safe management of visitor access. This includes fact sheets and case studies for managing visitors access and resident restrictions.

The National aged care guidance – aged care visitation guidelines provide guidance and advice for providers on visitation based on the COVID-19 situation within the community.

Twelve aged care and consumer peak bodies have released an updated Industry Code for Visiting Residential Aged Care Homes during COVID-19, which ensures Australians living in residential aged care can safely receive visitors. The update is in line with latest AHPPC advice and includes FAQs.