Testing times for all nursing homes

The Victorian COVID-19 outbreak will put new infection control and visiting guidelines to the test. National Seniors are watching this closely.

By Professor John McCallum, National Seniors Australia CEO.

The recent outbreaks of COVID-19 at no less than four residential aged care facilities in Victoria pose two important questions.

Firstly, what have we learnt from the first wave of outbreaks at Sydney’s Newmarch and Dorothy Henderson nursing homes?

Secondly, are we now applying those lessons?

On the first question, it’s encouraging that residents who have tested positive in Victoria have been immediately placed into intensive care, something which didn’t happen during the initial outbreak at Newmarch.

The answer to the second question is less encouraging after we learnt that nursing home staff in Victoria were not wearing facial masks and have now been ordered to so do by doctors.

It’s prompted the head of the Australian Medical Association, Dr Tony Bartone to lament the order should have been made earlier and that it was an “opportunity missed”.

We know in the Sydney cases during the first wave that the source of both outbreaks was traced back to staff members.

That should have been a wake-up call to all workers and management at nursing homes, regardless of whether there are active cases in their cities or regions or not.

However, blaming people for the current situation solves nothing.

National Seniors Australia along with the other groups representing older Australians, helped negotiate rigorous rules to prevent outbreaks.

We must help each other by sharing whatever information is gained by these outbreaks and that facilities act quickly and decisively in the first instance of a positive test.

But it’s not just staff and management who are being asked to practice perfect hygiene in nursing homes, we all have a part to play.

After all staff and family are coming from the community into aged care homes.

National Seniors Australia along with the other groups representing older Australians, helped negotiate rigorous rules to prevent outbreaks.

As a reminder, you cannot visit an aged care home if you have returned from overseas in the past 14 days, have been in contact with someone who’s had COVID-19 in the past 14 days, are unwell and have symptoms such as a sore throat and/or fever and have not had a flu vaccination in 2020.

What we don’t want to see however are pre-emptive lockdowns of the likes we saw during the first wave, where residents were treated as inmates, unable to leave their rooms for weeks and not allowed to have visitors.

We said at the time that lockdowns at facilities where there are no cases of COVID-19 are inhumane.

We understand the need for a lockdown should there be any positive cases but if all of us play our part in following the federal health department guidelines, we can avoid outbreaks and lockdowns and save lives.

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