Warehousing the elderly during COVID-19 must be challenged

Anne Cahill Lambert9 June 2020
Nursing home residents

Nursing home residents have been without visitors and in some cases access to fresh air for months. Photo: File.

This pandemic has seen individuals and organisations reorganise day-to-day activities in a different way. Some have risen to the challenge – think cafes that have turned into takeaway venues overnight – while others have taken the opportunity to resort to the bad old days.

While the pandemic has thrown a curveball at aged care providers, some have not risen to the challenge, introducing shocking arrangements for our most vulnerable – the elderly.

Residents of many aged care facilities are essentially in solitary confinement because of the decisions being made by providers on behalf of residents. I have no doubt that the providers think they have the best interests of their residents at heart, but I believe the arrangements that have been made are for the benefit of the providers rather than the residents.

The Prime Minister instructed aged care facilities to cease the curtailment of visitors to residents of nursing homes during a press conference on 24 April 2020. Up until then, national guidelines announced by the PM in March 2020 advised that it was acceptable for residents to have two visitors a day in their rooms. Facilities could apply for exemptions.

That same day, an aged care facility in the ACT issued a note to all residents and families advising that it would not be opening up for visitors at that time. No visitors had been allowed into the nursing home for more than five weeks.

The aged care industry released guidelines on 12 May 2020. Unfortunately, some homes continue to make visiting arrangements a nightmare.

The facility mentioned above now allows residents to have just one visitor per day for half an hour – after more than seven weeks of no visitors. The visit must be booked.

My friend who lives in that facility was able to have just one half-hour visit with one person this week because all the available booking times were taken by other residents. No visits for my friend over the weekend and just one during the week. For half an hour.

That same facility has not taken its residents outside since mid-March because, according to one staff member, they do not have enough staff to supervise the residents. No sun on their faces, no sun on their backs, no vitamin D.

Certainly, there are ways to redress the removal of human rights, such as complaining to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission. However, my friend’s family does not want to jeopardise their loved one’s care through repercussions. While the Commission takes a dim view of repercussions, nevertheless they happen.

I have had plenty of people tell me that these restrictions are in place for the good of residents. I wonder at this – the aged care facility has no COVID-19, and it has no other outbreaks of infectious conditions. It’s been shown that with good hygiene practices, there is no reason not to follow the Commonwealth’s directions.

Hospitals are able to manage visitors: temperature checks and hand hygiene at the front doors, limiting the number of visits to each patient and length of visits. Those arrangements do not exclude access to visits. They merely manage them.

I despair of the fact that some aged care providers are basically getting away with reverting to the dim black days of history in the way elderly residents are managed – their human rights are significantly diminished. Yet, they continue to act with impunity, sometimes across nationwide chains of facilities.

This particular aged care facility is part of a national chain and these arrangements apply to other facilities across the chain. This is happening while the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety is underway.

It is happening despite the Commonwealth’s instructions. It is happening despite the existence of an aged care charter of human rights. It is happening despite the code of conduct agreed by aged care providers.

Mental health experts will no doubt have a significant contribution to make in this space, but it will be too late for the current residents who may just give up over this appalling ‘care’.

I am sure we should not be waiting for individual complaints: aged care is clearly a Commonwealth responsibility and actions should be taken immediately to address this abuse of human rights.

Anne Cahill Lambert AM has worked in the health system for more than 40 years. She was the former chair of the ACT Remuneration Tribunal and a member of the National Health and Medical Research Council. She has a particular focus on ensuring that the voice of consumers is heard.

Original Article published by Anne Cahill Lambert on The RiotACT.

What's Your Opinion?

16 Responses to Warehousing the elderly during COVID-19 must be challenged

TN TN 8:04 pm 18 Jun 20

Excellent to see people speaking up on this. I’m aware of a provider in NSW that is still isolating new residents as well as respite residents for a fortnight, despite the PM stating these homes should not be isolating people. Two weeks locked in a single room would not be healthy for anyone, but especially not for the elderly and how much worse for them if there are already memory/disorientation issues… (There are other less extreme measures that could be employed to protect existing and new residents.)

And I’m still distressed at the Government’s mandatory vaccination requirement, although the health order is due to expire on June 22 (may we see some change reflecting liberty sooner rather than later). No-one should feel bullied or coerced into being vaccinated, yet denying access to a loved if you haven’t had the government mandated vaccine feels very manipulative. If they want hand washing, face masks, gloves etc, fine — those are not an invasive, personal medical issue. There has been far too much overreach and overreaction from many quarters of late.

Cathy M Cathy M 12:04 pm 09 Jun 20

The same thing is happening at my Mothers Aged care facility here on the South Coast, there is only my Brother and I but it has been very difficult seeing her as they are only allowing 10 in per “session” 3 days only per week 2 hours in the morning and 2 in the afternoon but only allowing a visit for 30 min. I agree they are doing this for themselves and not for the residents care.

Graeme Betts Graeme Betts 9:22 am 09 Jun 20

I think its appalling that husbands are only allowed limited access to there wives and vise versa there is no outbreak in the area where i live but restrictions are still in place how much longer is this going to continue

Janne Leddin Hardy Janne Leddin Hardy 9:00 am 09 Jun 20

My health as an elderly person is the number one worry. Just acceptance of that has meant a peaceful lockdown. Why do people manufacture extra stress? We seem to be hooked on being outraged

    Jeanette Westmore Jeanette Westmore 9:15 am 09 Jun 20

    Janne Leddin Hardy residential care facilities can be lonely places. I think it was wise to lockdown but I think they need to think creatively so people can keep in touch. Quality of life is the most important thing

Amanda Robyn Amanda Robyn 8:56 am 09 Jun 20

Thank you thank you for this article. My mother is in a facility in Canberra with those restrictions. And yes I question whether it is the facilities reputation that is foremost in their minds when they make these rules. I have a feeling it maybe. If visitors agree to and follow the staff hygiene rules I cannot see why visits are forbidden. It has been such a long time for these elderly people , many of whom will not understand why their loved ones aren’t coming any more. So so sad.

    Wendy Fenton Wendy Fenton 9:17 am 09 Jun 20

    Amanda Robyn absolutely agree Amanda. Disgraceful to deny people of any family contact at this stage in their lives. Becomes just existence, not living. I wonder if many would rather risk the virus and at least spend time with their loved ones, than be alone and isolated.

    Wendy Fenton Wendy Fenton 9:19 am 09 Jun 20

    Amanda Robyn I know of one lady who stopped eating when her family couldn’t see her...died during the pandemic from starvation!

    Amanda Robyn Amanda Robyn 9:42 am 09 Jun 20

    Wendy Fenton it’s just so sad Wendy. I agree totally. My mother often says ‘ there are worse things than dying’. And at her age and stage of life I would agree.

    Wendy Fenton Wendy Fenton 10:41 am 09 Jun 20

    Amanda Robyn , yep. Please say hello to your mom from Wes and I.

    Amanda Robyn Amanda Robyn 11:22 am 09 Jun 20

    Wendy Fenton I will. It’s her 95th birthday next week.

    Anne Carter Anne Carter 4:22 pm 09 Jun 20

    Amanda Robyn you are right, my mother would not have understood not seeing her family, would have caused her huge stress, she would have felt abandoned..

    Anne Carter Anne Carter 4:22 pm 09 Jun 20

    Amanda Robyn happy birthday to your mum for next week, a remarkable age 😊

    Amanda Robyn Amanda Robyn 5:12 pm 09 Jun 20

    Anne Carter yes. It is remarkable. ThNks. I’ll pass your wishes on. Xxx

Maria Kellond Maria Kellond 8:54 am 09 Jun 20

Excellent article.

Tammy George Tammy George 7:56 am 09 Jun 20

Thank you for this article.