Royal commission urges qualified staff to be deployed to aged care facilities

Restrictions on family visits to protect aged care residents from the coronavirus may be worsening loneliness and isolation among an already vulnerable group.

The chair of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety Tony Pagone on Friday called for qualified staff to be urgently deployed to aged care facilities, saying restrictions on family visits may be causing additional harm.

The chair of the royal commission has called for qualified staff to be deployed to aged care facilities.Credit:Alamy

"We have heard that an inability to receive visitors, or a lessening of time which visitors may attend to visit, can have impacts upon the supplementary care family visitors frequently provide for such basic things as feeding and toileting," Mr Pagone said.

He said there was an urgent need for measures to help frail older people to "deal with the negative aspects of the measures designed to protect them".

The reduction of visits needed to be supplemented by additional measures to ensure a healthy and quality life, he said.

Professor Julie Byles, the director of the Priority Research Centre for Generational Health and Ageing, said she was worried the message of 'don’t go near old people' was not accompanied by positive ideas and skills for keeping older people safe and connected in other ways.

She was working with the Australian Association of Gerontology to discuss the broader issues around the ‘stay away from old people’ message.

"The message should go beyond hygiene and spatial distancing [which are important], and also focus on the social and mental wellbeing and other welfare matters," Professor Byles said. "The measures we eventually put in place for social distancing will have to last for a long long time."

In the last two weeks, some aged care services have stopped all visitors. Others require visitors to wear masks and gowns when they visit or restrict visitors to the resident's room.

Journalist Susan Wyndham, the former literary editor of The Sydney Morning Herald, hasn't been able to visit her 95-year-old father since his aged care facility banned visits nearly 10 days ago. Her father has advanced dementia, and his daughters visit several times each week.

"It is a hole in my life not to go there. He is enormously thrilled to see me. He always says, 'Darling, so lovely to see you'," she said. She takes him biscuits, and they sit in the sun with a cup of coffee.

When Ms Wyndham asked how her father was doing, she was told, "The residents are really settled." In email updates, the facility said staff were providing more one-on-one time, activities and were setting up Skype.

"I am grateful and relieved that they are taking really extreme safety measures. If they can keep the virus out, he is in the safest place … I feel far more sorry for old people home alone, and their families."

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