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Reworked aged care visiting code provides better balance between safety and respecting people’s rights

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A revised version of the Industry Code for Visiting Aged Care Homes has been released for public consultation, which industry bodies claim provides a better balance between safety measures and respecting the rights of older Australians and their emotional wellbeing.

This comes after a vast body of citizens and legal experts have expressed concerns that the previous code encouraged residential aged care providers to falsely imprison their residents.

Whilst industry policies often intersect with health department COVID legislation, legal experts note that they are not legally binding policy in themselves.

This new, sixth iteration of the code, developed by 12 aged care industry organisations and led by the Council on the Ageing (COTA) Australia, is said to be informed by the National Plan to Transition Australia’s National COVID-19 Response.

Ian Yates AM, chief executive officer of COTA Australia, says that this nationally consistent approach emphasises that only ‘highly targeted lockdowns’ will be permitted.

“Going forward there will be COVID outbreaks across Australia, but aged care providers can’t implement rolling lockdowns,” he said.

“The aged care sector must find a reasonable balance between common sense safety precautions and the dignity and wellbeing of older Australians receiving care.”

The suggested infection control procedure under the code is a three-tiered, traffic light system:

  • Code Green (minimal COVID-19 in the local government area)
  • Code Orange (heightened risk due to COVID-19 in the local government area)
  • Code Red (an exposure or outbreak has occurred inside the aged care home).

An ‘Essential Visitor’ provision has been endorsed, wherein residents can nominate one person who, according to a statement from ACSA,  will ‘always be allowed to visit… regardless of outbreak status”.

However, this is at odds with the “Code Red” provisions of the policy, which states that:

“During Code Red (an outbreak in an aged care home) some restrictions may occur. For example the total number of people onsite, including visitors, is likely to be limited in accordance with outbreak procedures, which may mean not all Essential Visitors can visit daily.”

End of life visits, in contrast, must ‘always be facilitated’.

Paul Sadler, chief executive officer of Aged Care and Community Services Australia (ACSA), says this new system is necessary to ensure the ease into COVID-normal operation is done as safely as possible.  

“COVID-19 is still circulating in the community and aged care will remain at the front line of the pandemic for some time.

“This makes the visitor’s code extremely important to make it clear how to balance infection control measures with the kind of social supports that keep older people happy and healthy.”

Do you agree or disagree with the new Industry Code?

COTA and ACSA are inviting community feedback, via this link, which is open until 12pm, Friday, November 19.

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