Colbeck’s call for people to visit aged care residents again

By Melissa Coade

February 24, 2022

Richard Colbeck
Aged care services minister Richard Colbeck. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

The Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care services is encouraging more visitors to see their family and loved ones in residential aged care facilities, with COVID restrictions starting to lift. 

The health department has published new interim guidance advising looser restrictions and a risk-based approach to outbreak management in aged care facilities. 

In a statement, Richard Colbeck has urged Australians to visit lonely people in the nation’s aged care residences, citing the ‘significant stress’ of isolation caused by extended COVID lockdowns since 2019.

“New [health] guidance means that visits can become more frequent and supported,” Colbeck said. 

Reports from the start of February revealed nearly half of Australia’s aged care facilities are battling COVID outbreaks with residents who have not received a booster shot dominating the national death toll. Between July 2020 and February 2022, a total of 801 aged care residents have died with COVID-19 and another 15,496 residents have tested positive since the start of the pandemic.

“We know how important it is for aged care residents to see visitors, such as family, friends and members of their community in person,” Colbeck said. 

“Personal contact is vital to maintaining the social, emotional and mental wellbeing of residents, reducing their social isolation and loneliness.”

To encourage the safe return of visitors, aged care providers will be eligible to access free Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) kits from the national medical stockpile to screen more people showing up at facilities.

The availability of ADF personnel to support aged care workforce capacity during COVID outbreaks also means defence teams can be used to undertake visitor screening and management tasks. 

The minister’s appeal for more aged care visitors echoes a campaign by peak bodies Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA) and Leading Age Services Australia (LASA).

ACSA CEO Paul Sadler said the sector was working to keep residents connected with their loved ones in the interest of their mental wellbeing.

“I am confident services are well-prepared and staff are keen to welcome visitors back in a safe manner,” Sadler said. 

The interim guidance was commended by LASA CEO Sean Rooney, who said it will ‘make a big difference’ in the attitude towards welcoming people back into facilities.

“We have seen a reduction in the length of time for lockdowns and isolation, and access by essential visitors is also being supported,” he said. 

A government program known as ‘partnerships in care’, which offers visiting families training in COVID-19 safe practices, infection control and hygiene during an aged care COVID outbreak, is also being updated for residential aged care facilities.

An additional 17,800 volunteers will also help foster friendship and companionship for older Australians thanks to a funding boost of $34.4 million over four years to the community visitor scheme. This brings total government funding for the program to $113.99 million.

The minister noted that the department of health was actively looking for ways to support the re-engagement of volunteers in the aged care sector.


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