The recent release of the Industry Code for Visiting Residential Aged Care Homes during COVID-19 is a welcome development that enables residents, families and providers to have the same shared understanding and expectations regarding visitor access to residential services. It is also a good example of the aged care sector demonstrating leadership and working together to develop solutions to the challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Value-added activities successfully implemented by aged care providers in the context of the visitor restrictions can be found right across the aged care sector. We have been interviewing a number of providers to find out what they have been doing in this regard, and what they have learned from the experience. One of these interviews is presented at the end of this Bulletin. I hope you enjoy it and those to follow, and get a few good ideas from them about what you can introduce in your service.
One of the key challenges faced by aged care providers in the pandemic is being ready to respond rapidly and effectively in the event that a staff member and/or consumer is found to have COVID-19. This requires careful and thorough planning, preparation and ongoing review. It also depends on well-established organisational governance arrangements that are a core characteristic of all successful organisations. Lessons have been learned from the management of every COVID-19 case in an aged care service in Australia to date, and the Commission is working with the Commonwealth Department of Health to compile these lessons in order to share them with the sector.
In relation to other work being undertaken by the Commission, next month we will be conducting a survey of aged care consumers who receive home care packages. Consumers will be contacted by telephone and providers will be sent information to share with their consumers in the coming weeks. Once the survey is completed and the responses collated, the information will be published on our website.
Last week Australia marked International Nurses Day. It was the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale, whose pioneering work in the Crimean War on sanitation and the importance of handwashing could not be more relevant today. Nearly 50,000 nurses work in aged care, looking after 1.2 million senior Australians and ensuring infection prevention and control processes are in place. Their work is, of course, vitally important at any time. During the current pandemic, the contribution of nurses across the country, in the aged care sector and elsewhere, is acknowledged and greatly appreciated.
Transparency of information for consumers and their families
From July, the government will publish a compliance rating for quality and safety of a residential aged care service on the My Aged Care website. The rating system was developed by the Department of Health in partnership with the Commission and in consultation with stakeholders, including senior Australians, their caregivers, aged care providers, and a range of peak bodies.
From July 2020, every residential aged care service will have a Service Compliance Rating in the ‘Find a Provider’ section of the My Aged Care website. The rating will allow consumers to access and compare easy-to-understand information on the quality of residential aged care services, supporting more informed decision-making.
The rating will reflect a service’s current compliance position – i.e. whether a service has a sanction or non-compliance notice and the outcome of the most recent performance assessment by the Commission against the Aged Care Quality Standards. Look out for more information in this newsletter and on our website in the coming weeks.
Industry Code for Visiting Residential Aged Care Homes during COVID-19
The Commission welcomes the release of the new industry-led Code aimed at ensuring that older Australians in residential aged care can remain connected to their family and friends during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Code, which describes arrangements for visiting residential aged care services while minimising risks of viral transmission, will help provide the necessary clarity and support for providers and residents and their families on this important issue.
Initiated by COTA and supported by 13 aged care peak bodies and consumer advocacy organisations, the Industry Code for Visiting Residential Aged Care Homes during COVID-19 has drawn on sector expertise and experience in consultation with consumer groups. It sets out expectations of conduct for the sector on how to support visitors for residents while keeping them safe and protected.
The Code complements the Commission’s existing regulatory framework by further specifying agreed acceptable practice, guarding against misapplication of emergency provisions and fostering industry-led better practice.
The Commission has issued a fact sheet outlining how we will consider the Code in our regulatory and complaints management activities.
Short-notice site visits continue
The Commission continues to conduct site visits as part of our risk-based regulatory response to COVID-19. In general, these visits are undertaken at short notice (ie. providing less than 24 hours’ notice to the approved provider), noting that the Commission may also undertake unannounced visits at any time.
Visits undertaken across April and May have related to infection control preparedness, as well as concerns about the quality of care and services provided to aged care consumers.
Details of our risk-based proportionate response to COVID-19 can be found at https://www.agedcarequality.gov.au/covid-19-coronavirus-information
New COVID-19 subcontracting arrangement notification requirement for approved providers
The Commission has created a new COVID-19 Subcontracting arrangement notification form for approved providers to complete in response to COVID-19 and aged care service delivery.
It is for approved providers that engage external organisations to assist with the expansion of their existing aged care services in response to COVID-19 aged care needs.
Approved providers are required to notify the Commission of changes that materially affect their suitability to provide aged care within 28 days after the change occurs.
The new form and supporting web information will guide approved providers on what information they must provide to the Commission and also to consider their existing responsibilities when entering into these arrangements.
COVID-19 Aged Care Support Grant
As part of the COVID-19 Aged Care Support Program, the Department of Health’s COVID-19 Aged Care Support Grant will reimburse eligible aged care providers for eligible expenditure incurred in managing direct impacts of COVID-19. The Program will run over two years from 2019-20 to 2020-21.
It will assist Residential Aged Care, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Flexible Aged Care Program and Home Care Package providers that are subject to direct COVID-19 impacts, to deliver continuity of safe, quality care for consumers.
Eligible applicants can apply for funding for each impacted service for the periods between the date on which the resident, staff member or client is tested for COVID-19 and the date on which direct COVID-19 impacts are resolved (i.e. no infected or isolated residents, staff members or clients).
Eligible applicants can fill out an online application form.
Outbreak Management Webinar
You are invited to listen to a recording of a webinar hosted by the Department of Health and held on 8 May on outbreak management in residential aged care facilities. Click here for a slide deck summarising the issues covered in the webinar and the resources available to providers.
What’s on: Free short courses for aged care workers
Dementia Australia is helping aged care workers and carers to gain skills to better support people living with dementia, including specific areas such as how to respond to changed behaviours.
The Centre for Dementia Learning has two free online courses that will help aged care workers to learn more about dementia and how to problem-solve changed behaviours.
Use the Promo Code ACQ to access.
Innovative consumer engagement
The Commission has been collecting examples of successful practice from residential aged care services about how they are supporting residents to keep in touch with their family and friends, and supporting wellbeing and quality of life during the visitor and other restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
We have had a strong response from providers to our call out for this information, and would welcome more examples.
Please head over to our website to see more of the great things providers are doing.
You can send an email with details of your idea, program or initiative to email@example.com. Please 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).
Q and A – Talking success stories!
The Commission has also been conducting interviews with a number of providers to share, in more detail, examples of the successful activities they have implemented and what they have learned from the experience.
We sat down with Karen Crouch – Executive Director, Anglicare Southern Queensland, to learn more about what her services are doing to keep residents connected and to support their wellbeing.
1. What has been the most challenging aspect for your service in implementing visitor restrictions?
Our lifestyle teams always run quite an interactive and full program for our residents so having to turn that around and change the focus to being an internal program was where we really needed our lifestyle team to come forward and into their own. We often have a lot of school children in the home, a lot of singing performances, concerts, as we try to bring the outside in and keep the residents connected with their local community – but that program needed to shift pretty quickly.
2. What are some of the activities you have introduced in your facility to keep residents connected and engaged with families and friends during the visitor restrictions?
What we have found is that residents’ connections have become stronger and they have really enjoyed some of their interactions together by working with our staff. Our staff love to share their own stories, so we’ve had theme days where our staff share their cultural background and dress up days.
John Pascoe, one of our residents in our St Martins Aged Care Home in Taigum in Brisbane, is 71 and told us he used to sing a lot. He really wanted to bring some brightness and joy into the home considering we couldn’t bring performers in.
So he put on a show as an Elvis impersonator for our residents and our lifestyle team live streamed that on our Facebook page into our other aged care homes.
But it went beyond all our expectations as it was picked up by ABC News, Channel 10, Hit105 radio in Brisbane, and USA Today and Fox News in the US, who were talking about how Australians are doing lockdown in their aged care homes and that there was a ‘new king in town’. It was lovely.
It had over 15,000 views in the live stream and the delight and joy it has brought to John has been really uplifting. He let us know that we had a whole lot of talent in our residents.
We also have a campaign we call “Old Mate Queensland”. Last year we wanted to celebrate old people and we did that through a whole lot of media coverage and other ways and it was called #oldmate. But we revitalised that during the early stages of COVID by getting people who were in isolation who had come back from overseas or who were in quarantine for any reason to do shout outs online to #oldmate and to share their story and also their hope for the old mates and themselves for the future. They did corresponding shout outs back from our residents thanking them for thinking about them. That got residents more familiar with video messaging and using those profiles.
A few high profile people became part of that and did some shout outs including well-known Brisbane musician Katie Noonan who did a live stream of a song, as well as social influencer Flex Mami.
There has just been a lot of love between people and doing those shout out messages on the internet and getting our older residents connected using the technology. It’s been a fair bit of fun and we’ve also seen sharing of wise messages to the younger generation.
3. What activity do you believe has had the most positive/beneficial impact on consumers’ quality of life during the restrictions? In what ways?
There hasn’t been one specific thing, but Anzac Day and making sure we celebrated it, was very important to our residents. We couldn’t have children come in and participate in an event so we needed to rethink the event to be done in a COVID way.
In one of our homes, a local music school teacher who plays the trumpet played “The Last Post” out the front of the home and our residents gathered appropriately around. Residents who either had husbands who fought in the war or did so themselves, wore their medals and it was very important the day didn’t go past without a dignified recognition of that so we made sure that happened. There was a lot of pride and tears.
Our residents guide us with what they would like to do in their lifestyle program; we have a pretty active resident group that like to guide us about what’s important to them and what they would like to see more of and what they would like to see less of.
4. What has been the most positive feedback from the consumers and their families?
The look on John Pascoe’s face when we showed him where he had featured across the world was absolutely priceless.
But I did receive a personal message from a resident’s son. It was just lovely, and I was so surprised to see it arrive in my inbox. It just said: “Dear Karen, I hope you’re getting some sleep; obviously others are because of what you and Anglicare are doing - delivering the most trusted aged and retirement homes brand in Australia. Well done and keep up the good work.”
It’s just the little things that make you understand you’re on the right track.
5. With the possibility of the visitor restrictions lasting several more months, what other ideas have you got planned to implement?
We are trying to establish live streaming ‘Interhome Bingo’ between our eight aged care homes to connect the residents together across our homes. If we are successful then we will invite other aged care homes to participate with us. We haven’t connected our homes together like that before.
But you can’t forget the simple things: new boards - or stations – are set up in each wing with a variety of things that people can interact with at any time, such as puzzles, crosswords, riddles and different readings. We have increased our libraries, and our DVD collection has been growing through kind donations.
6. Tell us what you have learned/taken away from implementing these activities?
What we have improved on is understanding the talent amongst the residents themselves and getting them more actively involved in leading some of the lifestyle activities and social engagements in the home. What the residents themselves have brought to the table around that has significantly increased during this time.
We have always done that well, but I think this has given them space to think more creatively themselves. When you have to do a reset of a program or anything like that it opens up the opportunity for new exploration, so I think the fact we opened up the opportunity for new exploration and included the residents in that fully is why I think we have got such a great outcome.
7. Are there any activities your facility has introduced that you will continue post visitor restrictions?
Inviting all the residents to share their gifts and talents in whatever way they would like to share them, is really vital moving forward – seeing that positive impact on John Pascoe’s wellbeing has been fantastic.
If you would like to be involved in our Q and A, email firstname.lastname@example.org.