The guidelines, endorsed by consumer and aged care advocacy groups, emphasise the importance of allowing essential visitors to aged care residents, even during lockdowns, to prioritise their mental well-being. The Code was developed in response to reduced state and territory health guidance in 2023, following the initial response to the pandemic.
Under the Code, visitors are strongly encouraged to be up-to-date with vaccinations, including boosters, unless medically exempt. A screening process is also in place to assess potential symptoms before visitation. The guidelines were produced through collaboration among various organisations, including Carers Australia, Council on the Ageing (COTA) Australia, Dementia Australia, and others.
COTA Australia CEO Patricia Sparrow highlights the challenge of striking the right balance but emphasises the significance of clear guidelines that ensure residents are always entitled to at least one visitor, irrespective of the COVID-19 outbreak status.
“We need to ensure that the needs of older Australians are always front and centre. That includes ensuring their health is prioritised, both physically and mentally.
“The code provides clarity around how we can balance COVID precautions with the dignity and wellbeing of older Australians, including their often neglected mental health,” Sparrow said.
OPAN CEO Craig Gear emphasises the preventive approach in balancing infection risk and the detrimental effects of social isolation on older individuals. He emphasises the importance of ensuring access to booster vaccinations for eligible residents and addressing the mental, physical, and nutritional impacts of extended periods of social isolation.
CEO of the Aged and Community Care Providers Association Tom Symondson underscores the importance of protecting the health of older Australians while recognising their need for social interaction with family and friends.
“The Sector Code for Visiting in Aged Care Homes ensures older people have access to an essential visitor at all times,” Gear added.
The revised Code, developed in consultation with key stakeholders including the general public, sector representatives, and health authorities, aims to improve the lives of older Australians by balancing COVID-19 precautions with their well-being. The guidelines offer clarity on visitor access and seek to enhance the safety and social connection of older individuals in residential aged care.