Aged care’s peak advocacy body has called for an end to locking down elderly residents as COVID-19 spreads through residential facilities.
Council on the Ageing (COTA) CEO Ian Yates, pictured above, says while locking down residential aged care facilities at the start of an outbreak is understandable, it can’t continue indefinitely.
“We are seeing far too many residents being locked up for very long periods of time when they indeed are fully vaccinated (and) the staff are all vaccinated,” he told Sky News on Thursday.
“We want to keep Omicron to the bare minimum, we are not going to keep it out of aged care when it’s widespread in the community but the impact is much, much less than in 2020 when we didn’t have the vaccines.”
The biggest immediate impact is staff shortages while access to rapid antigen tests in aged care is proving problematic, restricting the return of some staff and visitors to facilities.
Yates says facilities needed to be on the front foot to avoid prolonged lockdowns.
“One of the responses is frequently just to lockdown. A lockdown at the beginning of an outbreak is understandable,” he said.
“But you cannot – in terms of their mental health and their physical health – keep residents locked away for long periods of time and unfortunately that’s what’s been happening.”
Yates called for residents to be able to have an essential visitor who can be treated as a pseudo-staff member to keep in contact with them.
Labor’s aged care spokeswoman Clare O’Neil has criticised the Federal Government facilitating “diabolical” conditions within aged care facilities, saying staff and residents had been neglected for the better part of a decade.
She also took aim at the low booster rate of staff, saying less than one in three having had a third jab.
But a spokesperson for Health and Aged Care Minister Greg Hunt said senior Australians have been a priority throughout the pandemic, noting the country has had one of the lowest levels of death in aged care from the pandemic.
The Government has delivered 5.6 million rapid antigen tests to aged care facilities – “the largest deployment across the country of tests from the national medical stockpile”, the spokesperson said.
More than 1700 facilities have had boosters administered to eligible residents and workers with a higher than 99 per cent vaccination rate among staff.
All facilities are due for completion in January, the spokesperson said.