Julie McStay and Richard Hundt

COVID-19 Update: Consultation underway on Visitor Access Code for residential aged care homes

Julie McStay and Richard Hundt

May 6, 2020

Aged Care Retirement Villages

In recent weeks there has been much debate in various public forums as to the best approach to take to balance the risk of allowing visitors into aged care homes during the COVID-19 pandemic with the ongoing need for residents to stay connected with their friends and family.

Visitor Access Code released for consultation and could apply by as early as 11 May 2020

Aiming to address this tension and after consultation with the Federal Government, an industry-led Visitor Access Code (Code) was jointly released on 1 May by the aged care peak bodies and consumer advocacy groups as a draft for consultation. The consultation period closes on 7 May and it is anticipated that the code will be finalised by 11 May 2020. This is an incredibly short consultation period but given the pace at which the COVID-19 crisis is moving this is not surprising.

While there is no suggestion at this stage that the Code will be enacted as law, if it is adopted there will be a community expectation for providers to comply with the Code and for it to be accepted as the industry standard.

The objective of the draft Code is to ‘facilitate safe and regular communication between residents and their family, family of choice or friends during the COVID-19 pandemic, while minimising the risk of its introduction to a residential care home.’

The draft Code sets out:

12 principles on visitor access during the COVID-19 pandemic period, including the following key principles:

  • Visitors must not visit aged care facilities if they have any cold/flu or other Covid-19 symptoms and must comply with infection control processes and other requirements such as hand hygiene, temperature checking on arrival and wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) if required;
  • The Code contemplates two types of visits that usually require in-room visits or dedicated areas, which may be for a longer period of time and may require additional infection control training, being:
  • residents who are dying and in their final weeks should be allowed in-person visits from a number of loved ones on a regular basis;
  • visitors who have a clearly established pattern of involvement in providing a resident’s care and support must be facilitated, with the length, frequency and nature of the visits reflecting what is needed for the person to be cared for appropriately and consistent with established practices and routines.
  • The Code provides that all other visitors may be required to remain only for ‘short’ periods and may be subject to additional measures such as booking systems to manage the total number of visits and restricting to visiting using windows, gates or gardens.

the core rights for:

  • aged care providers; and
  • residents, families and friends;

the core responsibilities for:

  • aged care providers; and
  • residents, families and friends;

a Code Complaint Process; and

a review process.

Although many will already be complying with the approach as proposed, providers should carefully review the details of the Code to consider to the extent to which applying the Code might impact other existing formal policies processes that have been put in place.

Practical implications

If the Code is adopted in its current form providers would need to ensure systems could be implemented to comply with it quickly, because if adopted the Code will commence from 11 May 2020.

Some matters such as requirements relating to hand hygiene, temperature checks and the provision of PPE will no doubt be second nature to aged care providers but additional resourcing will no doubt have to be considered to cover entry requirements for visitors.

Systems and processes

If the Code is adopted in its current form providers will also need to quickly implement other aspects of the requirements to set out in the Code to manage in-person visits in accordance with the principles set out in the Code, for example providers will need:

  • to adopt a booking system and determine how many visits can safely be achieved per day, taking into account the layout of the service and number of residents/visitors;
  • to manage the different types of visits contemplated by the Code ie the short visits or the longer visits for palliative residents or for residents whose relatives who have a clearly established pattern of involvement in providing a resident’s care and support;
  • as an overarching principle, to consider how in-person visits can be achieved while ensuring appropriate infection control measures are maintained and social distancing is adhered to where possible.

In addition to the Code, the relevant state directions about aged care visits and entry requirements will continue to apply, including the influenza vaccination requirements.

Consultation process

  • Consultations on the draft Code close at 3pm (AEST) Thursday, 7 May.
  • It is anticipated that the Code will be finalised by Monday, 11 May 2020.

Suggested next steps

Residential aged care providers should:

  • Review the draft Visitor Access Code;
  • Consider whether they want to comment on the consultation draft;
  • Monitor the release of the final Code;
  • Consider the practical implementation of the Code within the context of each service – and the extent to which any formal policies or procedures may need to be reviewed and updated.

Webinar

Thomson Geer Partners, Julie McStay and Lucinda Smith are presenting a webinar for LawSense on the Code and its implications for providers on Wednesday 13 May at 3pm. We will also run this webinar for our clients. To register your interest in attending please email rsvp@tglaw.com.au.

Contact

Please do not hesitate to contact a member of our national Health, Aged Care and Retirement Villages team if you would like to discuss the application of the Visitor Access Code, managing visitor access, or your service more broadly.