In this article, Stuart Lowe and Tayla Gorman review the draft Residential Care Visitor Access Code and explain its impact.
Residential aged care providers will be aware of the public health directions issued to date by various State Governments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, based on National Cabinet guidance, restricting care and support visits as to frequency, duration and number of visitors. However, some providers have opted to implement stricter measures to ensure the safety of residents, such as total lockdowns. In recent weeks, various levels of Government have pressured these providers to relax visiting restrictions, in line with Government guidelines, despite:
In response to threats of Government intervention, various aged care peak bodies last week released a draft Residential Care Visitor Access Code (the Code). A copy of the draft Code can be found here. It is intended that, once finalised, the Code will be a voluntary code, providing a nationally consistent visitation policy for residential aged care facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the draft Code has been “considered” by National Cabinet, it remains to be seen whether it will receive Government support and, if so, in what form.
The draft Code is currently open for consultation, with the consultation period ending at 3.00 pm on Thursday, 7 May 2020. It is envisaged the Code will be finalised by Monday, 11 May 2020.
A major underlying principle of the Code is the need for providers to actively facilitate connections between residents and their family, family of choice or friends during the COVID-19 pandemic, while minimising the risk of its introduction to a residential aged care facility.
Providers who opt in to the Code must:
In addition to the above, providers who opt in to the Code may:
The Aged Care Quality Standards and Charter of Aged Care Rights will continue to apply throughout the pandemic.
Visitors must comply with infection control processes put in place by the provider, and must not enter a facility if they have any cold, flu or other COVID-19 symptoms. Providers will need to make their own decisions on appropriate infection control procedures for their facility, however the Code expressly notes the following as minimum entry requirements for visitors:
Residential aged care providers already incur considerable internal costs to comply with Australia’s regulatory framework. The additional staffing, equipment and technology costs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated this situation.
The Federal Government’s announcement of an emergency funding package to support providers has therefore come as welcome news to the industry. Providers can now expect to receive once-off additional funding of $900 per occupied residential care bed in metropolitan areas, or $1,350 per occupied bed in rural or remote areas.
The Code is expected to be finalised by Monday, 11 May 2020, and will presumably commence shortly thereafter.
The draft Code states that it will be reviewed four weeks after its implementation.
We will continue to provide further updates on the Code as they become available.
In the meantime, please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions relating to aged care operations in this unprecedented time.
Article written by Stuart Lowe (Partner) and Tayla Gorman (Associate).
"The content of this publication is for reference purposes only. It is current at the date of publication. This content does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be obtained before taking any action based on this publication."