A Public Health Order has been in issued in NSW in relation to Coronavirus, so how does it impact visiting aged care during COVID? Here we provide the answers to some frequently asked questions so you can understand what you can and can’t do about visiting aged care during COVID.
The first thing to note is that the situation is changing rapidly. The information contained in this article was correct as at 30 December 2020 and mainly relates to the situation in Greater Sydney including the Blue Mountains, Central Coast and Wollongong, unless otherwise specified. Currently there are no restrictions in regional NSW.
We’ll do our best to update this article, but we have also included links to the NSW Health website which is updated regularly, directly by the authorities. The current advice applies to at least 11.59pm on Wednesday 6 January 2021.
The second thing to note is that the safety and wellbeing of our ageing loved ones should be the utmost priority. While legally you have the right to visit, think about the safety and wellbeing of all in the facility. You wouldn’t want to be the cause of an outbreak. You need to balance the risk, with your loved one’s ongoing physical and mental wellbeing when considering visiting aged care during COVID.
Can I visit my relative in aged care?
The short answer is the public health advice say you shouldn’t, but you can if you need to.
The longer answer is the public health advice is that you shouldn’t visit your relative in aged care in Greater Sydney during this time if it’s just a general visit. We should be limiting contact with people outside our own household during this time generally, it doesn’t just apply to aged care. HOWEVER, if you need to visit because you are providing direct care (this is referred to as an “essential care person” by NSW Health) or your parent is at the end of their life, you are allowed to visit. (These are referred to as “exceptional circumstances”).
These are the general guidelines. The actual Order legally allows visitors from carers under section 5 Direction—entering and remaining on premises of residential aged care facility (page 4).
Who is allowed to visit?
An essential care person is a person who has regularly visited an aged care resident and provides aspects of care and companionship. For example, the husband or wife of a resident who visits regularly and sits with them, the son or daughter of a resident who helps feed or bathe them. Residents with mental health issues or reduced capacity due to dementia that need a trusted carer to help support and maintain their physical and or social or emotional wellbeing, are allowed visits from an essential care person. Note these are just illustrations of the types of relationships people have with residents (it’s not meant to be a list).
An essential care person is not a casual visitor, or someone who doesn’t provide care. For example, a family friend just visiting.
If your parent is at the end of their life, then the facility should allow relevant family and friends. You will just need to comply with the requirements.
Again, these are the general guidelines. The actual Order legally allows visitors from carers under section 5 Direction—entering and remaining on premises of residential aged care facility (page 4).
What are the requirements around a visit?
- Do not visit if you are unwell, have been in a COVID hotspot or are a close contact of someone with COVID
- All visitors must wear a mask
- As a visitor, you will need to be escorted to and from the resident’s room by a staff member and remain within the room during the visit (not wander the halls etc).
You should book ahead with the facility so they can arrange the staff to escort you to your loved one’s room. This should be done via whatever system your parent’s aged care facility has in place. Some have an online booking system while others require phone or email. It’s advisable to follow up via email so you have a record of the interactions.
You might also want to print any confirmation from the facility and bring it with you, in addition to a copy of the Public Health Order in case you are turned away from the facility on arrival (sometimes the message gets lost between management and those working the floor in the facility – particularly on a weekend).
What if the facility doesn’t let me in?
Some facilities are unfortunately banning all visitors. This is not in accordance with the Public Health Order nor is it legal.
You can provide them with a copy of the Public Health Order and remind them of their legal obligations (again emailing so you have a copy of it). You can also print a copy out if attending in person.
If you still are denied access and you are an essential care person who has fulfilled all the requirements, contact OPAN, the Older Person Advocacy Network on 1800 237 981.
Can I take them out of the facility for an excursion?
Under the current guidelines, aged care residents should not leave the facility unless the visit is essential, such as a medical appointment. Family gatherings and trips to the shops are deemed non-essential at this stage.
While legally the facility cannot stop the resident leaving if it’s for a non-essential reason, the facility has the right to advise the resident that they may be required to go into 14-day self-isolation when they return.
Again it’s important here to consider the health and wellbeing of all residents, not just your wish to have your ageing parent get out for an excursion for social reasons.
Can I take them out of the facility to come and stay with me?
Yes. If you would like to have your parent come and stay with you because you are concerned about coronavirus in their facility, you can do so under what is called “Emergency Leave”. This fact sheet at this link outlines the key points you need to know including payment of fees. https://www.health.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/2020/09/coronavirus-covid-19-information-for-permanent-aged-care-residents-emergency-leave_0.pdf
Final tips for visiting aged care during COVID
- Stay up to date with the latest health advice
- Be considerate of those working in the aged care facility
- Think of other ways to stay connected to your loved one if possible
- If you are an essential care person and your loved one will deteriorate without your visits, be polite but firm in your rights to visit and care. But remember, wear a mask and reduce the risk as much as possible.
- NSW Health general COVID-19 website – https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/covid-19/Pages/default.aspx
- NSW Health advice for people in aged care facilities. This page is a good overview of the situation and has lots of links for you to dive deeper into specific information. Due to the evolving situation though, it’s not always entirely up to date. It’s a good starting point though –
- Latest advice on COVID-19 for aged care facilities. This is updated regularly – https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/covid-19/Pages/racf-latest-advice.aspx
- NSW Public Health Order. This is the actual legislation as at 15 December. You can attach a copy or print it out if required –https://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/file/Public%20Health%20%28COVID-19%20Aged%20Care%20Facilities%29%20Order%20%28No%204%29%202020.pdf
- NSW Government legislation page relating to COVID and aged care. This is the page that contains the latest public health orders should the situation change – https://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/information/covid19-legislation/aged-care
- Federal Government fact sheet on Emergency Leave – https://www.health.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/2020/09/coronavirus-covid-19-information-for-permanent-aged-care-residents-emergency-leave_0.pdf
- Older Person Advocacy Network. Call 1800 237 981 or visit the website – https://opan.com.au/covid/
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