Aged Care

The Future of Visiting Residential Aged Care Centres: A Post-COVID World

A visitor shows an elderly woman something on her phone
Anthea Leong
July 15, 2022
1 min read
A visitor shows an elderly woman something on her phone

The coronavirus pandemic has demanded more stringent dedication from residential aged care centres than the industry has ever had to face—this much is no secret. As aged care workers do their best to comply with evolving restrictions, we’re taking the liberty to assume that they long for the day when the disease has been contained and they can go back to focusing solely on providing quality aged care services to their vulnerable residents.

In reality, though, their daydream probably needs some adjusting. Even as Australia moves from the COVID-19 recovery phase to COVID-19 normal, both individuals and businesses must ready themselves for longer-lasting impacts that will inevitably be featured in the new normal, especially with regards to visitor management.

Welcoming a sunrise era with new codes and practices is always daunting, but the good news is visiting residential aged care centres can be accommodated—the industry just has to come up with a plan to prepare for the future of visiting. But what does this future entail, exactly? The below considerations can be applicable for aged care facilities starting from the current context and for the (hopefully) forthcoming post-COVID dawn.

Visiting cannot be precluded from the future (or now)

In this post-COVID future we all dream about, video conferencing tools such as Zoom will have already taken over the world. Many of us in the tech-reliant generation will have gotten used to virtual communication; nowadays, we catch up much more frequently with our friends and family, but we’re able to carry on sans the dread because it precludes dressing up and travelling.

The next logical proposition for the future of visiting residential aged care centres could then be: why not just take visiting out of the equation entirely? Safety first, right? Wrong.

Contextualise the experience of a senior in a residential aged care facility who looks forward to their family’s visits every weekend. What would a future with only video conferencing look like for them? Memes of the elderly’s inability to angle video call cameras anywhere but up their nostrils are amusing and endearing, but the reality is that these avenues pale in comparison to the interactions provided by visits to satisfy their social needs.

While safety measures remain the top priority for residential aged care centres, the visitation rights of their residents must still be protected. No matter how strict the source of rigid restrictions, ask any authority and they will agree that visitors are as essential to the wellbeing of residents as are safe distancing measures.

As echoed by the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Senator Richard Colbeck: “The Australian Government agrees wholeheartedly with the AHPPC (Australian Health Protection Principal Committee) that residents must be protected in the least restrictive manner and their health needs must be balanced with their personal wellbeing and human rights.”

He reflects well one thing: visitation rights are akin to human rights. Of all affected organisations, residential aged care facilities especially house a population that can be adversely affected by isolation and lack of human interaction.

Already there are heart-wrenching stories of senior residents succumbing to the imposed distancing with tragic outcomes. A report done by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety reveals the grim case of UY’s father, who had been living in a residential aged care facility with a motor neurone disease that meant he relied on physical touch to communicate.

His inability to touch and hug his family caused his condition to deteriorate, and he passed on 13 June 2020. UY explains, “I believe Dad gave up wanting to live because his family support and connection was disconnected. As an Italian man, he had lost what he called his ‘blood support’. Without this, he did not have meaning.”

In the midst of rough waters, a steady priority must be given to accepting residents’ visitors whenever safe and possible. Australia’s shift from COVID-recovery phase to COVID-normal must be taken as an opportunity to work towards that end. The best achievement of this requires the implementation of a customisable visitor management system—but that’s a topic for another place.

Visiting residential aged care centres will likely never work the same as they used to. Then again, not many things will. But to squeeze a silver lining out of the persistent grey cloud that is COVID-19, one takeaway that will continue to benefit the operation of residential aged care services after its departure is a more conscientious approach to safety and health practices. Read on to get an understanding of which such practices we believe await.

visiting residential aged care
Visiting residential aged care

Safe visiting practices of the future

“Wear a mask!” A chant echoed in all the crevices of every building and edifice currently existing in the world by now, so loudly and prominently that masks are sure to be the staple of new fashion trends to come. Of course, residential aged care facilities are not exempt from this crucial practice; in many states and countries, masks are compulsory for all staff and visitors who enter the premises.

While mask-wearing should continue to be promoted and enforced, there are many other new standards of responsible practice that visiting residential aged care centres will start entailing.

New workforce practices

The aged care industry is constantly overstretched for staff (shoutout to the unsung heroes of our vulnerable populations!), and employees often work across several facilities in both aged care and community-based employment locations. This will become (in fact, already is) impractical for safety reasons during and following the pandemic.

The recommendation here is to minimise the movement of aged care workers between different facilities, and even more so between different zones in the country which might fall under different tiers of COVID-response levels depending on the location’s specific outbreak context.

In recognising the difficulty of working within such confining conditions and thereby failing which, staff should be prepared to complete a register of all facilities at which they work and possess a deep understanding of the necessity for staying home when they’re feeling unwell. Pushing through a headache to show up to work in the future will no longer be a sign of perseverance and dedication but one instead of irresponsibility.

Essential care persons

Call us idealistic, but to us the future looks empathetic. Strict visiting regulations will likely not diminish to its previous, now comparatively lax standards. Even then, a new category of loved ones should retain VIP status when it comes to allowing visiting exceptions: essential care persons.

Residential aged care facilities house any number of lively elderly each with their own set of unique life stories, backgrounds and needs. Among those, there may be a few who require essential care, which can constitute those receiving end-of-life care or residents with serious mental illnesses (such as advanced dementia). An essential care person, then, is that vital visitor who provides dynamic care and companionship for such a resident through this arduous–and potentially final–period of their life.

If the right lessons have been derived from this pandemic, we predict that the next generation of residential aged care workers will be well-equipped with the knowledge of what exceptions to fight for, and to do so with sympathy leading the way. Essential care persons will likely have their own sign-in processes and be pre-registered into the facilities’ systems for smoother visits in the future.

Personal screening and risk assessments

Of course, the heart must be accompanied by the head. While making necessary visitation exceptions for the right reasons, every visitor must undergo a risk assessment of the potential liabilities that arise from them being exempted from restrictions, and every facility must also evaluate their own ability to manage exceptional visits.

Residential aged care facilities might also be harsher with accepting new residents as a result of more rigorous risk assessments. Whether they be permanent or respite residents, many considerations have to be taken into account such as whether the person:

  1. has been to areas where testing or monitoring of symptoms is advised;
  2. has had contact with any confirmed, suspected or probable COVID-19 cases;
  3. is awaiting COVID-19 test results; or
  4. has any symptoms of COVID-19.

Even after the virus has mostly washed away, these efforts will likely keep the entry requirements for visiting residential aged care organisations more tense and rigid than the before-times. We expect costs to increase for them as a result of maintaining these new standards, which may end up being passed down as higher resident fees as well.

There’s a way to mitigate this unpleasant side of engaging necessary aged care services: recognising that the onus will fall on the individual too. A post-COVID world must feature staff and visitors who are conscientious about the safety of the collective. Personal screening habits, especially for residential aged care workers who are in close contact with vulnerable people, will greatly curtail the costs covered by their employers to upkeep regular screening practices and safety standards.

Doing outings safely

One of the most common things nearly everyone—we daresay even introverts—is looking forward to being able to do again post-COVID is to go on the occasional outing or two. And previously, residential aged care workers already had to keep close track of residents whenever they left the facility for their own safety. Well, this attention will only need to get more acute once outings are no longer unsafe.

In particular, staff are advised to take more note of the purpose of the outings applied for by each resident, with further considerations of their specific conditions and ensuring the right precautions are made. Such purposes as visiting the mall or cinemas should be approached with extra discretion since it is harder to enforce social distancing in these types of venues.

Where possible, residential aged care workers should try to advise residents to keep their outings to less than five in a group, or arrange it that way for their convenience. Then again, we’re writing this in a time that being surrounded by five is already a luxury. So perhaps such restrictions may not need to apply in the future. Still, it may be best to err on the side of caution—anything to prevent a repeat.

Tech education

As with all articles about the future and the possibilities it holds, we must touch on the vitality of introducing technology as one of the solutions to visitor management problems. Virtual communication platforms (like the aforementioned Zoom) will never replace visiting residential aged care facilities in person. But in situations where choices are limited, having access to this option is definitely better than nothing.

We also touched briefly on the vitality of visitor management systems in this new world. The sheer number of visitor considerations a residential aged care organisation must contend with is clear by now, we’re sure. Employment of the proper visitor management system could make or break the successful implementation of new-age rules and regulations. RAC-focused systems already exist, and are bound to improve as time passes and situations stabilise. All it takes is picking the right one to fit each facility’s specific needs.

In conclusion

The future may be uncertain and volatile. However, we have the gift of foresight and an unlucky situation from which to garner valuable tips for eventuality planning. Residential aged care centres have a duty to their residents to ensure visiting can continue in the new world, as preeminent to their quality of life as it is. And might as well make it easy for staff too, right?

Learn more about how Zipline can help your residential aged care facility bring about a bright, visit-rich future.

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.

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