Queensland COVID-Affected Nursing Home’s No Visitors’ Policies May Break Industry Code

Extreme “no visitors” policies are imposed on distressed residents of COVID-19-affected nursing homes in Queensland, with a facility that prohibits visitors from waving through the windows themselves.

Policies that potentially violate the industry code of conduct are being implemented while homes are battling an explosion of COVID-19 cases.

More than 52 facilities in Queensland have now reported at least two infections, according to statistics from the federal Department of Health, and yesterday three people died in the elderly care of COVID-19 in the state.

Nursing homes have in some cases introduced rolling shutdowns to try to combat the infections while dealing with staff shortages and delays in COVID-19 testing.

Exacerbation of elderly care residents ‘stress, however, appears to have been a mixed interpretation of visitors’ policies during the closures, some of which have occurred at intervals since before Christmas.

The Council on the Aging (COTA) Code of Conduct for Industry states that elderly carers have the right to have an “essential visitor” regardless of COVID-19 outbreak status at a facility.

But yesterday, ABC obtained correspondence from a Bundaberg nursing home sent to relatives of the home’s residents, who seemed to contradict the code.

The January 12 correspondence from the Churches of Christ-operated Gracehaven Aged Care Service stated that the Queensland Government’s “public heath department” had made a decision on “no visitors”.

“While we are detained, relatives are not allowed to visit their loved ones, either outside a window or outside in our garden area,” reads the correspondence from the management of the Gracehaven home in Bundaberg, which was sent on 12 January.

Visiting Restrictions ‘Guide’

Yesterday, a spokesman for the Churches of Christ said Queensland Health’s local Public Health Unit (PHU) had provided “guidance on implementing visit restrictions” at the facility.

“PHU advised to implement visit restrictions until all residents had received two PCR tests – one on January 4 and one on January 10 – to ensure that the outbreak had been dealt with before the service could reopen to visitors,” the spokesman said. .

The spokesman said late on January 13 that the facility had been informed that another resident at Acacia Hostel had tested positive and therefore that part of the elderly care would remain under visit restrictions until further notice.

Personal visits will resume in other areas of the service from 14 January.

An older woman holds on to a younger person's arm while sitting together.
The local public health unit (PHU) had provided “guidance on implementing visit restrictions” at the facility.(Unsplash: Manny Becerra)

The spokesman said they had offered digital visitation to residents and families when they were first notified of visit restrictions on January 1st.

The spokesman said that when visit restrictions were instructed by the PHU, as in this case, the service manager was able to grant visitors exceptions on a case-by-case basis, including for end-of-life care.

No nationwide mandate

Queensland Health said there was no nationwide mandate in the form of a public health guideline limiting visitors to geriatric care facilities.

A spokesman for Queensland Health said public health units provided advice on facilities, which could include recommending restricting visitors to avoid further spread within the facility and into the community.

“This is not new and has been a standard practice throughout the pandemic,” the Queensland Health spokesman said.

A Zimmer frame in focus with a group of elderly caregivers (unidentifiable) sitting around it.
The crisis in the elderly care sector is exacerbated by staffing problems, not enough RATs and residents facing weeks of lockdowns.(ABC News: John Gunn)

Concerns raised with COTA

The interpretation of the rules of geriatric care centers in Queensland during the COVID-19 outbreak has already given rise to concern among COTA’s CEO, Ian Yates.

Sir. On January 1, Yates was moved to write to Wesley Mission Queensland CEO Jude Emmer about its “no visitors” policy at John Wesley Garden’s nursing home in Brisbane.

His letter followed ABC, revealing a desperate elderly woman who had spent her first Christmas alone in the facility had been denied a major visitor on the grounds that there was a “red level” lockdown.

In correspondence obtained by ABC, Mr Yates wrote to Mrs Emmer to say that it was wrong to interpret rules as not allowing any visitors to residents in a “red level” situation.

Mrs Emmer responded to Mr Yates, saying that although the Wesley home had experienced an active eruption of the red zone, “there were some risk-assessed visits” and they had balanced all directions in accordance with the code.

He said the facility had been in full outbreak control under the direction and guidance of the Public Health Unit and the Commonwealth Department of Health.

An out of focus shot of an elderly man holding a young girl's hand on a deck outside.
A spokesman for Queensland Health said public health services provided advice on facilities.(ABC News: Natasha Johnson)

Sir. Emmer stated in the correspondence on January 2 that four communities had since been reduced to an amber zone classification and that all residents had received visitors.

A spokesman for Wesley Mission said the provider’s “red level outbreak management plan” allowed retired visitors or essentials and supported visitors determined on a case-by-case basis.

Shutdowns of geriatric care are not sustainable

Yesterday, Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA) CEO Paul Sadler said the crisis in the elderly care sector was exacerbated by staffing problems, not enough quick antigen tests and residents facing weeks of lockdowns.

He said the shutdowns were not lasting.

“It’s not good for older people, it’s not good for their families.”

An old road sign showing figures holding hands, with the words 'aged' below
Some nursing homes introduced rolling shutdowns to combat infections while dealing with staff shortages and delays in COVID-19 testing.(AAP: Dave Hunt)

Sadler said the ACSA had expressed concern to the federal government about the situation and hoped for an improvement.

“The government is aware of the shortage and supply to the RAT [rapid antigen tests] and PPE [personal protective equipment], so they’ve committed to improving supply chains as best they can, ” he said.

“We believe that there are over 1,000 elderly care homes that will be reported as having outbreaks when the data comes out tomorrow.

“It has increased from 500 a week ago, and it increased from 100 to 500 in the two weeks over Christmas / New Year.

“This is an exponential growth that is directly linked to Community transmission.”

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