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UPDATE: New Aged Care Visitor Access Code helps families and residents during COVID-19 pandemic

Catherine Henry Lawyers
Catherine Henry Lawyers

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Visitor Access Code

The New Aged Care Visitor Code has been updated with a range of changes including no time limits for close family visitors and allowing residents to leave a residential aged care facility (RACF) for things such as small family events or gatherings.

The peak aged care and consumer bodies that developed the Code said feedback on the Code has been largely positive and that there has been a significant increase in the adoption of the Code across RACFs.

The changes to the Code are:

  • no limits on the hours spouses or other close relatives or social supports can spend with relatives in RACFs but visits should be in a resident’s room, in outdoor areas or designated visiting areas, but not in communal spaces
  • allowing children under the age of 16 to enter RACFs again
  • requiring all RACF visitors to be vaccinated against influenza before entering a RACF (in line with the Government’s current ruling)
  • requiring visitors to practice social distancing while visiting a RACF
  • suspending the need for RACF staff to supervise visits but they must still screen visitors and educate them on social distancing and hygiene
  • allowing residents to have a maximum of two visits at any one time
  • allowing residents to leave a facility to attend a small family gathering if they have talked with their provider, undertake a risk assessment before the outing and partake in a screening process after they return
  • increasing restrictions if there is a COVID-19 outbreak in a facility or a local cluster has popped up in the nearby community.

The Code stipulates that it is appropriate for RACFs in hotspot suburbs to adopt visitor restrictions that fit within the Code.

The Code is an industry standard but not mandatory. View the Code here.

The original, new, Aged Care Visitor Code

Aged care advocates have worked with the aged care industry to develop a national visitor access code for aged care facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The code was developed after thousands of complaints from aged care residents and their families and an urging from the Prime Minister.

We worked with aged care advocates, residents’ families and aged care facilities to provide input into the Code. The Code certainly provides clarity and some consistency in relation to loved ones seeing family members during pandemics is welcome, but the matter is not straightforward. Balancing the needs of family members with the ability of aged care facilities to have confidence that visitors are not putting staff and residents generally at risk is the challenge.

What does the new Aged Care Visitor Access Code mean for aged care facilities, aged care residents and their families?

The new code outlines the rights and responsibilities of facilities, residents and visitors and was finalised mid-May after a week of public consultation. It is set to be reviewed again at the beginning of June to address any issues and concerns.

There are separate regulations in place between states and territories, but this code does seek to provide some national consistency and clarity to the aged care sector, residents and families.

Importantly, there is a suggested access resolution process for families who feel they are being unfairly prevented from visiting their loved one.

The 13-point code adheres to advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee. Key recommendations include:

  • visits should be only as frequent as required to support a resident, for a short duration and limited to a maximum of two people
  • a visit may occur in a resident’s room, designated internal areas, gardens or other designated areas
  • longer periods of visitation can be agreed to with the provider and may be given priority for family or friends of residents with dementia
  • where in-room or in-person visits cannot occur, a window visit may need to be offered
  • any visitor to an aged care facility is now required to have had a flu vaccination.

Additionally, the code outlines routine screening measures for all staff and visitors on entry. It underlines the need for one point of entry only, a short verbal questionnaire for visitors on arrival and a ‘no touch’ temperature test.

Rightly, the code specifies it is not reasonable to keep residents locked away from their families.

The Aged Care Visitor Access Code can be found here.

Expert advice for both families and aged care facilities on aged care visitor access

If you or a loved one needs support or advocacy or for any issue involved the legal aspects of aged care, Catherine Henry Lawyers’ expert team can speak with you about the options available to you.

Our team cam also assist aged care facilities who need advice or assistance regarding policy development or implementation on access, or in managing requests by families or residents for greater access that facility managers feel present a risk to staff and residents generally.

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