While the current trends in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic are broadly reassuring across Australia, there are still very serious risks for older Australians, which means we must not relax our current vigilance.
The Commission is continuing to adapt its regulatory response to keep consumers safe and to provide guidance and support to providers in delivering safe, effective, compassionate and high-quality care.
This is particularly true when it comes to the current restrictions relating to visitors to aged care facilities. Our Chief Clinical Advisor recently wrote to providers of residential aged care services recommending the screening of all staff and visitors on entry to the facility. We also issued further advice on actions and strategies that providers can take when it comes to visitor restrictions. As always, the advice centres on the ongoing safety and wellbeing of consumers.
Complementing this guidance, you would no doubt be aware of the draft Industry Aged Care Visitor Access Code which was endorsed by the National Cabinet last week. The industry-led Code, developed by peak consumer and provider bodies, aims to drive a more responsive and consistent approach to visitation and communication across residential aged care. The draft Code is currently open for consultation until 7 May and you can find a copy on COTA’s website.
Two other issues addressed in this edition of the newsletter which are also focused on ensuring the safety and wellbeing of consumers are maintaining levels of nutrition for older people in care, and ensuring that staff, volunteers and any visitors have a current flu vaccination. With respect to the latter, Primary Health Networks (PHN) across the country are in the process of contacting aged care providers to conduct a needs-based assessment and will coordinate influenza vaccination programs for those services with an identified need. Please ensure you respond quickly to your local PHN to ensure your service is captured in PHN coordination activities.
Also included in this edition is information on the Commission’s current survey of providers of home services. The results of this survey will inform our support and regulatory response for home service providers and ensure that our activities are appropriately targeted.
In the last Bulletin, we highlighted examples of innovative thinking to keep consumers engaged, some of which involved the use of technology to keep residents and families connected. Coincidentally, the government has launched a new initiative to help build seniors’ technology skills, not just for keeping in touch but also to encourage greater use of online services.
To provide further inspiration, there is now a dedicated page of innovative ideas on the Commission’s website. Separated into broad themes, the content will be updated regularly as we receive new ideas and examples from across the country and worldwide.
Online survey for aged care providers of home services
The Commission has conducted an online self-assessment survey which aimed to support providers of home services to evaluate their readiness for a COVID-19 outbreak. The survey was carried out under Section 64 of the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission Rules.
We will be following up with any home service provider that did not submit the requested information by the due date of 6 May. If you had any difficulties responding to the survey, please contact the Commission on email@example.com
Home services include services delivering home care packages, Commonwealth Home Support Programme (CHSP) services and flexible care services through which short-term restorative care is provided in a home care setting.
The survey was designed to gauge how COVID-19 will affect individual home service(s), to review the infection control systems in place, and support home service providers to take action to identify, minimise and manage risks to the safety, health and well-being of their consumers.
The survey questions were based on the Department of Health COVID-19 Guide for Home Care Providers, which providers are urged to consult for essential information.
The information received from the survey will help inform how we use the Commission’s functions to monitor and support home services providers. Information may also be shared with the Department of Health and relevant state health authorities to address COVID-19 issues. No personally identifiable information will be shared.
Suspension of residential site audits and home services quality audits
The Commission is continuing to undertake site visits to aged care services where we assess that there is or may be a heightened risk to the safety, health or wellbeing of consumers. We provide short notice for these visits to ensure full adherence to infection control requirements.
Our routine residential re-accreditation site audits and home services quality audits have been temporarily suspended. This pause in our programmed work is informed by the latest advice regarding COVID-19 preventative measures and is aimed at minimising infection risks to aged care consumers, staff and our own employees. This means we will be publishing fewer audit reports and consumer experience reports (CER) on our website at this time. For information relating to notices of non-compliance and sanctions, please visit My Aged Care’s non-compliance tracker.
The Commission has advised some home services of the date of their quality audit as part of the Quality Review process. Quality audits that have been scheduled for the coming months will not be proceeding at this time unless considered absolutely necessary and will be notified in advance.
In relation to residential site visits, the Commission has contacted providers to inform them that their re-accreditation site audit is being postponed. The Commission is working with the Department of Health to ensure the continuity of service’s Commonwealth residential care subsidies.
Residential aged care providers that are due for re-accreditation have been sent a form to give to consumers, and the nominated representatives of those consumers, about the deferral of the site audit and how they can contact the Commission should they wish to talk about any issues or concerns about their care and services. Changing the timing of the site audit does not impact in any way on our continued work in monitoring and supporting the quality and safety of services received. As noted above, the Commission continues to undertake risk-based site visits as required. Details of our risk-based proportionate response to COVID-19 can be found on our website.
Staff and residents of aged care facilities urged to roll up their sleeves for flu vaccinations
Primary Health Networks (PHN) have been contacting residential aged care facilities to identify those facilities requiring help accessing flu vaccine supply or vaccine administrators.
This follows the announcement by Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians Richard Colbeck that it is particularly important that staff and residents of residential aged care facilities receive the flu vaccination this season as the fight to combat the spread of COVID-19 continues.
PHNs will contact all residential aged care providers by region to undertake a needs assessment and coordinate influenza vaccination programs for those services with an identified need.
This activity aims to prioritise the access of residential aged care facilities to flu vaccines for their staff and vulnerable residents.
Those services yet to respond to this needs assessment are strongly encouraged to provide this information to your local PHN as a priority.
Nutrition during COVID-19
Keeping aged care consumers engaged and healthy is an ongoing priority for all aged care providers, and has never been more important than it is now, during the pandemic. Nutrition deserves close attention in this regard.
Here are some simple steps to prevent, identify and manage malnutrition risk:
1. Screen for malnutrition risks
Be alert to possible malnutrition flags during COVID-19 including appetite loss, changes in food consumption and bowel movements, and continue regular malnutrition screening. Increasing weight monitoring will help you to quickly identify and address malnutrition risk.
Delegate a staff member to undertake nutrition screenings using a validated tool such as the Mini Nutrition Assessment form and promptly refer to a dietitian for those at risk of, or experiencing, malnutrition.
2. Continue dietitian visits
Most residential aged care services are continuing dietitian consultations during the pandemic via remote and face to face visits. Remote visits include remote access to resident records, video consultations and video observations of the meal and dining experience. Face to face visits can still occur safely during COVID-19 by providing dietitians with a meeting room to review records and meet with consumers.
3. Social distance dining
Continuing to provide enjoyable meals and dining experiences is important for reducing the risk of malnutrition. The Lantern Project has practical tips to maintain high quality food and enjoyable dining during COVID-19 restrictions including:
- ensuring all hands are on deck to support residents during mealtime
- enabling remote access for clinicians
- ensuring all staff are on high alert for any instances of poor food intake
- consider scheduling a remote shared mealtime together with family and friends via FaceTime or Zoom.
See the tips recommended by The Lantern Project to manage the risk of malnutrition during COVID-19 visitor restrictions.
Grants for digital devices to access eSafety courses and keep seniors connected
Free daytime webinars are now available to help improve the online skills of seniors as they increasingly turn to the internet to access online services and connect with loved ones during the pandemic.
These online courses are being delivered by the eSafety Commissioner as part of the Federal Government's $47 million Digital Literacy for Older Australians "Be Connected" initiative. Hosted by professional eSafety Commissioner trainers, the courses will offer participants guidance to help build basic online skills and confidence to carry out video chats, telehealth, shopping and banking.
The classes feature key topics specifically for remaining connected while social distancing measures are in place, including:
- video chatting with family, friends and health professionals
- ordering groceries and other shopping essentials online for home delivery
- carrying out everyday tasks online, including accessing essential services
- accessing Federal Government information updates from australia.gov.au and the Coronavirus Australia app
Those interested can register.
In addition, the Government is also providing $1 million in grants for community organisations to provide digital devices to older Australians. One-off payments of up to $5,000 allow existing Be Connected Network Partners to purchase and loan digital devices and SIM cards to Australians aged over 50 years. The grants will be managed by Good Things Foundation Australia in their role as Be Connected Network and Grants program manager.
For more information about the program visit beconnected.esafety.gov.au or call the Be Connected Helpline 1300 795 897.
Innovative consumer engagement
We’ve had a great response to our call out for information about the innovative ways providers are exploring to keep consumers engaged and connected during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the physical distancing requirements currently in place, a rendezvous in a cosy café is off the agenda, or is it? The Dementia Australia Advocacy Team has introduced the first Zoom On-Line Café. Called the “The Heart-to Heart” Dementia Café”, it’s for people with a diagnosis of a dementia and for family members and carers of a person with a diagnosis of dementia to socialise and connect with others in similar situations. Visit their Facebook page to learn more.
The leisure and lifestyle team at Cranbrook Care’s Bella Vista Gardens has introduced the “Great Australian Adventure”, a collaborative exercise activity with the residents and their families. It involves the residents “travelling by foot” around Australia by counting their steps around the facility while family members and friends can add the number of steps they have walked during the week to propel the “journey” further forward. Families are also asked to help the residents explore sites on the way by sending interesting facts on the towns they visit, landmarks, even holiday photos and stories of their own family adventures they are happy to share. The team is also trying to connect with primary schools on the journey to see if the children would like to be part of the adventure.
Montefiore in Sydney has started an electronic pen pal letter writing exchange with an aged care home in England and the leisure and lifestyle team has tweaked the weekly newsletter in its facilities to include more interactive activities such as quizzes, puzzles and crosswords as well as contributions from the residents, such as jokes, poems and drawings.
Uniting in NSW and ACT have been trialling a silent disco program that provides consumers with personalised entertainment to improve their wellbeing. They can listen to music, podcasts, audio for a video or a yoga or meditation class. It is controlled by staff using a tablet device and aims to immerse, entertain and connect consumers who are isolated or living with dementia. What they have discovered is that consumers are more likely to engage with these personal listening programs than they are when they just turn on the radio, for example. They found that after consumers remove the headphones, they often start conversations with each other about what they listened to.
We welcome more examples of innovative ways to connect consumers and their families. Send an email with details of your idea, program or initiative to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also send any supporting videos, photos or other visual material (ensuring first that you have secured the permission of any people featured in videos and photos to share their image).
Please have a look at more of the great things providers are doing on our website.