The mental health of aged care residents has been prioritised following changes to the Residential Aged Care Visitor Access Code.
Amendments to the code announced in December, aim to balance Coronavirus safety measures with patient rights, ensuring residents are entitled to visitation, regardless of COVID-19 outbreaks.
According to Aged and Community Services Australia, changes to the code will ensure infection control measures are balanced against residents' social lives and their right to self-determination.
The code states residents with, or at risk of mental health issues including loneliness, anxiety, boredom, fear, and depression must be provided support, including regular visits.
Council on the Ageing chief executive Ian Yates said the code provides clarity in balancing COVID precautions with dignity and wellbeing.
"We know that having access to at least one visitor at all times is crucial for older Australians' health and wellbeing," he said.
"This code strikes the balance between ensuring that access, while also making sure best practice COVID safety precautions are always taken."
ACSA chief executive Paul Sadler said the industry had learnt lessons from earlier outbreaks and understood it was important that residents could have visitors even during onsite outbreaks.
He said the protocols put in place as part of the changes would allow visits to continue in a safe environment.
"The visitor code makes it clear how we can balance infection control measures with the social supports that keep older people connected, happy and healthy," he said.
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In order to mitigate the impact of the Coronavirus on residents, the code outlines three levels of visitor access, each with its own infection prevention and control measures.
The measures range from green when there is little to no risk of COVID, to red when there is an outbreak in or in close proximity to a facility.
The essential visitor policy has also outlined three categories of essential visitors, including partners in care, named visitors and end of life care, who should always be permitted - regardless of the COVID outbreak status.
The ACSA found aged care providers were formally required to follow state and territory public health orders when they differed from the code, even when contrary to residents' rights and well-being.
The Australian Department of Health said providers should make sure visitation to aged care facilities to reduce the impacts of social isolation were supported, but that visitation restrictions should follow and not exceed the public health orders in their location.
Launceston based Masonic Care Tasmania chief executive Jackie Howard said since the Coronavirus outbreak resident protection and quality of life needed to be balanced.
"Since the pandemic began It's become clearer and clearer that we really need to balance the mental health needs of our older residents with safe practices in terms of infection control," she said.
She said while the code was voluntary the government and providers were aligned on the need of residents to maintain a social connection.
"We discussed this with the government here in Tasmania and they're on side with the code, we're not at odds at all," she said.
Andrew Chounding is The Examiners Health Reporter, if you have a health-related story please email Andrew.firstname.lastname@example.org
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