At the start of the new year, I urge all aged care providers to renew your determination to remain vigilant in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, even as we all optimistically look forward to the national rollout of the vaccine. During this period, the Commission will continue to support the sector with guidance and resources, the latest of which are summarised below.
2021 will also be a year of major milestones and new initiatives aimed at improving the safety, health, wellbeing, and quality of life of older Australians receiving aged care. The final report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, due this month, will no doubt propel and accelerate reform of the aged care sector, with the Government’s response expected to have significant implications for all stakeholders for years to come.
One of the issues examined by the Royal Commission that is already the subject of a major change program is reportable assaults in residential aged care. As outlined in this Bulletin, the Serious Incident Response Scheme is expected to replace the existing compulsory reporting arrangements from 1 April 2021 subject to parliamentary processes. The new scheme will introduce greater protections from abuse and neglect for older Australians in residential aged care, with providers being required to identify, record, manage, resolve, and report all serious incidents that occur or are alleged or suspected to have occurred. The Commission has produced fact sheets for providers and consumers and will release further guidance and education resources in the coming weeks and months, including new Alis modules.
Serious Incident Response Scheme update
The Serious Incident Response Scheme (SIRS) is a new Commonwealth initiative which aims to reduce the risk of abuse and neglect in aged care services. It requires new legislation to be passed by Parliament, and debate on the Bill, which has already been introduced in the House of Representatives, is expected in coming days.
On current planning, the new scheme is expected to commence in 2 months. From 1 April 2021, subject to decisions by Federal Parliament, providers of residential aged care must report all ‘Priority 1’ incidents within 24 hours. From 1 October 2021, residential aged care providers will also be required to report any ‘Priority 2’ incidents within 30 days.
Under the new statutory provisions for SIRS, residential aged care providers will be required to have in place an effective incident management system to respond effectively to all incidents, including taking steps to minimise the risk of preventable incidents reoccurring.
Reporting will take place via the My Aged Care provider portal. For information on accessing the My Aged Care provider portal, including easy-to-use guides, visit the Department of Health website.
The Commission is progressively rolling out information and resources to support the sector to transition to SIRS. This includes a webinar for providers to be held in February focusing on the importance of incident management systems.
Visit the SIRS page on the Commission’s website for more information.
Free Alis registrations ending on 31 March
Have you used the Commission’s Aged Care Learning Information Solution – or Alis – yet?
Until 31 March 2021, all Commonwealth-funded aged care service providers can access four free registrations to our online learning platform.
The learning modules in Alis have been designed with aged care providers in mind. They cover the Aged Care Quality Standards, key concepts within the standards, and clinical governance. The modules also contain videos, real-life scenarios, and knowledge checks to assess your understanding. There are also new Alis modules coming soon to support the introduction of SIRS.
Once you’ve set up an account, all you need is a device and an internet connection, and you can access Alis anywhere, at any time. If needed, you can also purchase additional Alis registrations to support your organisation’s ongoing professional development.
To find out more or to register, go to learning.agedcarequality.gov.au.
Residential service visitor access survey results
The Commission’s residential service visitor access survey closed on 19 January 2021. The response rate was strong, with 2,559 (or 94%) of services completing the survey. We thank all responding services for making the effort to do this exercise.
This survey was conducted as part of the Commission’s visitor access campaign, which is targeting visitor access in residential aged care to support the transition of the aged care sector into a COVID-normal operating environment. Providers’ adherence to public health orders issued by states and territories is essential but the Commission is aware that some residential services may be adopting a more restrictive regime than required, which is effectively denying some family members safe, reasonable access to their loved ones in care.
The survey was designed to raise awareness and determine whether residential aged care services Australia-wide were supporting and enabling residents to see their family members to the full extent permitted under any relevant public health orders regarding visitor access.
Early analysis of the survey responses indicates that:
- The majority of services allow direct access for visitors.
- In the majority of cases where services did not allow visitors, public health orders restricting visitors were in effect.
- Approximately 40% of services applied some form of restrictions on residents leaving the service. In many cases, these restrictions were not mandated by public health orders. (This finding will be further analysed.)
- The majority of services reported that they had formal policies and procedures for managing visitor access and the additional health and wellbeing impacts on residents caused by restrictions and isolation.
More detailed findings from the survey will be shared in an upcoming edition of the Quality Bulletin.
You can find out more about safely managing visitor access on our website as well as in our fact sheet on the ‘Industry Code for Visiting Residential Aged Care Homes during COVID-19’ which sets out the industry’s expectations of aged care providers conduct regarding visitors during the pandemic. You can also access visitor access case studies that provide real-life (de-identified) cases of complaints about visitor access and how they can be resolved to the satisfaction of residents, families, and services.
Lessons learned during the COVID-19 outbreaks in Victoria
The second wave of elevated community transmission of COVID-19 in Victoria, which started in late June 2020, presented a significant risk to residents and staff at local residential aged care services.
Many lessons were learned by providers whose residential services experienced an outbreak, and those lessons have been captured in a resource compiled by the Commission – ‘We saw the best in people: Lessons learned by aged care providers experiencing outbreaks of COVID-19 in Victoria, Australia’ – that is available on our website.
The contents of this document were drawn from interviews conducted by the Commission with the Board Chairs and CEOs of 34 providers operating at least one residential service in Victoria where an outbreak occurred. We are grateful to all interviewees who openly and honestly shared their experiences with us for the benefit of others.
It was evident from those conversations that all providers found the outbreaks challenging and demanding. Their valuable insights will be of use to residential aged care services across Australia.
We encourage all providers to make good use of the lessons outlined in this resource, to strengthen your emergency readiness in a COVID-normal world.
Missed our recent outbreak management webinar?
As you’re likely aware, the Commission recently published a new guide and video on our website to help residential aged care providers support their workers, care recipients, families, and visitors to prevent, prepare for and manage outbreaks of COVID-19.
To support the release of this guidance, we hosted a one-hour webinar last month about outbreak management with our Commissioner, Janet Anderson, our Chief Clinical Advisor, Dr. Melanie Wroth, and Ann Wunsch, Executive Director, Approvals, Compliance and Investigations.
If you weren’t able to attend this event, you can now watch a recording of the webinar on our YouTube channel.
We’re also planning to send out a copy of the guide to all providers, so keep an eye out for the guide in the mail.
Latest COVID-19 guidance for the sector
If you’d like to stay across the latest COVID-19 information and guidance for the aged care sector from the Commission, bookmark the following page of our website: www.agedcarequality.gov.au/covid-19-coronavirus-information.
We update this page regularly. The latest updates include:
- a letter sent by Commissioner Janet Anderson to aged care providers in Western Australia following the recent COVID-19 alert issued in that state
- information about our targeted regulatory activity during January when we called every approved residential services provider in Queensland to seek assurances that they had developed, and were ready to activate, their COVID-19 response plans
- advice from the Australian Government Department of Health following the recent cases of community acquired COVID-19 in New South Wales and Victoria
- real-life (de-identified) case studies about managing issues related to visitor access and how these issues can be resolved.
Tell us about your Resident Food Committee
As part of the Commission’s work to improve people’s nutrition and dining experience in residential aged care services, we are keen to hear from services that have a successfully functioning Resident Food Committee.
Resident food committees can be an important way to support consumers to have input into the design of menus and their dining experience.
Food committees can also promote greater consumer choice about food, which falls within Aged Care Quality Standard 1: Consumer dignity and choice.
We’re interested in understanding the various approaches currently used to establish and support these committees, and any lessons and success stories that you can share. If you have a Resident Food Committee, please email the Commission at email@example.com with your contact details so we can get in touch to learn more about your experience.
- Better Practice Guide to Complaints Handling – the Commission will shortly be mailing out a comprehensive pack, including a booklet, poster, window decal, and sample complaints form, to support every aged care service to operate and promote an effective, resolution-focused complaints system. The pack will also be available for download from the Commission’s website – more details will be available in the next Quality Bulletin.
- Partnerships in care: Supporting older people’s wellbeing in residential care – this fact sheet provides information on supporting partnerships in care safely while COVID-19 remains an ongoing risk. It encourages aged care providers to formally recognise existing relationships between a resident and someone outside the service who is involved in the delivery of services to, and the day-to-day care of, that resident. The agreement struck between the resident, a partner in care, and the residential aged care service typically includes arrangements for regular and routine visiting in a COVID-safe way.
- Indigenous translated resources about My Aged Care and accessing aged care services are available on the My Aged Care website. Resources include a brochure, poster, and radio advertisement in Arrernte, Pitjantjatjara, Torres Strait Creole (Yumplatok), and Warlpiri languages.
- Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine national roll-out strategy outlines the sites and the priority populations – which includes residential aged care residents and workers – for initial vaccinations, and the phases in which vaccine doses will be made available. The strategy is available on the Department of Health website. You can also find more information and subscribe to receive COVID-19 vaccine updates on the COVID-19 vaccines section of the Department’s website.
- The current national COVID-19 mental health campaign aims to help Australians experiencing mental health impacts caused by the pandemic. Campaign resources include stakeholder kits (including for multicultural audiences), videos, audio files, posters, images, fact sheets and, social media content. These resources are available on the Department of Health website.