It has been nearly a full year since the COVID-19 pandemic took the world by storm. In that time, the aged care industry has had to massively revamp its priorities and ways of working. Especially regarding COVID-19 visitor management, countless mistakes have been made, services have been disrupted, and residents have been negatively impacted.
But not all has been doom and gloom; Australia’s aged care sector has also been able to come together to be unimaginably innovative in light of impossible situations. Leading with the heart and keeping residents at the forefront of all decision-making has been key to this success. Of course, there is limitless room for improvement, as highlighted by the Royal Commission’s recently published Final Report; still, we should celebrate all the small wins we can.
Below, we evaluate some of the best practices in visitor management we’ve found from screening over 100,000 visitors. These are true-to-life solutions that have worked wonders for aged care facilities in Australia. So read on for our recommendations on how to overcome the unprecedented challenges brought about by an apathetic virus.
Non-optional visiting policies
Needless to say, COVID-19 visitor management is tricky business. Many updated industry codes and protocols have been released by the likes of peak bodies and other government-level authorities to guide aged care providers in response to a growing need for direction. Some policies are luxurious, and some mandatory.
The list that follows outlines the most important of the latter, presented as what not to do – best practices, after all, are often derived from prevailing mistakes.
Non-option #1: Having a visitor management plan that accommodates zero visitors
That residents should be able to receive visitors is entirely unambiguous. As much is their right. It is the duty of aged care providers to make adjustments to uphold this right. State-enforced regulations help maintain residents’ health and wellbeing, for sure. But seeing loved ones is an ingredient just as much a necessity.
A balance is paramount. Otherwise, the increased isolation and general loss of human contact will threaten to introduce other causes of concern for aged care residents than just the potential of an outbreak.
The aged care industry has ideals of enabling a shift in the perception of their service – rather than ‘facility’, ‘home’. So too says Sean Rooney, CEO of Leading Age Services Australia. But what is home to you?
To us and to them, family and loved ones make the home. Without them, it is incomplete and empty, falling short of fulfilling its purpose of providing the signature support and heartwarming environment that residents deserve in the place they call home. It falls on aged care providers to employ COVID-19 visitor management strategies that are able to nurture that.
Non-option #2: Keeping residents in the dark
With so much more that aged care providers now have to be concerned about due to COVID-19, it is not unthinkable that updating residents would not fall high on the priority list. Providing the best service possible given severe impediments, first and foremost, remains instead the focus of overworked and overstretched staff members.
This goal is undoubtedly essential and admirable. Yet, residents deserve updated knowledge about evolving situations, especially when it comes to limitations to services available to them. External factors caused these implementations, after all, and ignorance of these factors threatens their mental health.
Consider for instance the following scenario. A resident has acclimated themselves to regular visits from their family members. Isolative restrictions are suddenly and dramatically imposed on them. The only explanation offered to them was a virus-driven pandemic that has taken over normality and life as we know it. They remain unsure of the exact implications of this on the future of life in a residential aged care facility, receive no further updates as to providers’ ambiguous COVID-19 visitor management plans, and have no idea when they might see their loved ones next.
In the above example, the hypothetical resident has been done a great disservice. Such a circumstance risks the cultivation of a hotbed of panic, worry, and anxiety about the future. Increased isolation further compromises residents’ quality of life, especially when paired with that reality. Implementing a proper updating process is but providers’ due diligence, and contributes to the maintenance of residents’ emotions and overall well being.
Non-option #3: Failing to accommodate visitors using alternative methods
There will be times when all the COVID-19 visitor management strategies will be rendered ineffective and physical visits have to be minimised or even ceased for a period of time, for the safety and protection of the collective residential aged care community as well as outsiders who might otherwise go freely in and out of aged care premises. Of course, responsible providers will explain well to residents the reasons behind these extreme measures. But the earnest one will also remember this wonderful modern development known as technology.
In this day and age, there is no excuse for failing to introduce technology-driven alternatives to communication when the need arises, as it most certainly has for aged care facilities. Many assume that such avenues would fly directly over residents’ heads, as technologically illiterate as the elderly supposedly are. Our response to that is: then teach them.
Give them options that are more intuitive to them and each of their specific needs. Fire up a laptop and demonstrate the Zoom application for them, or Skype, or Facetime, or Google Meets. There are options galore today, and it is only a matter of sharing the love with our elderly.
Whichever way communication is accomplished, zero contact with residents’ loved ones is not the resolution. Helping residents adapt to situations, including modern features of the next generation, also falls under the purview of aged care service provision.
Updating visitor management systems
The policies outlined above provide clear directives, but to be sure, it also presents a decidedly herculean task. There are so many factors aged care providers must account for, contend with and not to mention avoid in planning their COVID-19 visitor management strategy. Over the past year, we have learned from experience what can make or break achieving the best visitor flow. Successfully implementing visitor restrictions in a residential aged care facility boils down to employing the proper visitor management system.
Scheduling pre-bookings, handling walk-ins, scanning temperatures, checking flu vaccination certificates, manually registering people into the system. These are all tasks that aged care front-liners must juggle with even though their precious time can be better capitalised. Plus, human error is a reality; one that can have more legal and health-related consequences in this tense period of hyper-regulation.
Remember that brilliant contemporary creation we mentioned earlier, though? Technological applications to COVID-19 visitor management are endless, and automation is key. There already exist many options for cloud-based visitor management solutions, generated from a demand for efficient systems that will streamline the sign-in process and improve visitor experience exponentially.
Of course, the best kinds tailor solutions specifically for aged care facilities. Those ones know the ins and outs of the industry and all its evolving and location-specific regulations, after all. What to choose then: a visitor management system customised to your exact needs. Your job will become so much easier to excel at.
At the end of the day, the best COVID-19 visitor management strategy is to bring about the day when visiting allowances can go back to normal (whatever that may look like in a post-COVID world). This means keeping all communities safe so that the virus has nowhere to spread.
It also means working hard to follow state recommendations, practising good personal hygiene (especially on the part of the provider who has regular contact with vulnerable peoples), and doing due diligence with the visitors you do allow in.
The best practices (and non-options) here present tales of theoretical utopias; it is up to the aged care provider to use their discretion to lead with empathy and ensure that residents do not suffer more than they need to from the divisive effects of COVID-19.
Speak to our experts today about introducing the best COVID-19 visitor management practices to your own aged care facility—because your residents deserve the best.
About the author
Other than for work, Marielle loves writing for fun (fantasy fiction is her not-so-secret mistress). She is also an intense Broadway and Disney geek and sometimes sings professionally.