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Aged care peaks back hospitalisation of seniors during an outbreak

Following a recent ABC Four Corners report that scrutinised the handling of a coronavirus outbreak by a Sydney aged care provider and New South Wales (NSW) Health, aged care peak bodies have backed the hospitalisation of elderly people who contract viral diseases, like COVID-19.

Aged care peak bodies have announced that they back a more coordinated approach to health system protocols for older Australians. [Source: iStock]
Aged care peak bodies have announced that they back a more coordinated approach to health system protocols for older Australians. [Source: iStock]

One of the provider's facilities had 19 older residents die from the coronavirus after an outbreak in the facility, yet no resident with COVID-19 was transferred to a hospital to receive medical care.

Families in the Four Corners report believe that the hospital was a better place for their older loved ones.

Aged care peak bodies have since announced that they back a more coordinated approach to health system protocols for older Australians.

Industry peak body, Leading Age Services Australia (LASA) says that new protocols need to come in place to protect older Australians and the aged care workforce, and a key to that is providing older people with access to appropriate hospital care.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of LASA, Sean Rooney, says, "Our aged care providers and staff remain on the frontline, doing all they can to save lives.

"They must be supported by Governments and health authorities with adequate staffing, funding, [Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)] and health system coordination to maximise the safety of older people from COVID-19.

"There have been many learnings from all outbreaks in aged care. Our sector needs answers to ensure any failures are identified and mitigated in the future."

LASA wants residents in aged care, who test positive for a viral disease or similar, to be permitted to transfer to a hospital where they can receive life saving care and infection quarantine facilities are available.

While aged care facilities do have infection control protocols, LASA wants to highlight that nursing homes are not hospitals and most cannot provide acute care, respirators or intensive care units.

"Age discrimination must not apply to the healthcare of older people, who are most at risk from coronavirus," says Mr Rooney.

"Furthermore, in the event that a resident tests positive to COVID-19 consideration must be given to the risk of infection to other residents and staff and the option of transfer to hospital for treatment and quarantine control.

"The aged care sector calls for all jurisdictions to follow the example of South Australia, where there is a commitment to transfer aged care residents to hospitals to give them the best chance of survival, which also limits the risk of COVID19 infection to other vulnerable residents and staff.

"Aged care and health care responses must be linked, so the rights of older people are respected."

Non-profit aged care peak body, Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA), has similar views, asking for further comprehensive coronavirus outbreak protocols for those in aged care, including hospitalisation for residents who test positive. 

CEO of ACSA, Patricia Sparrow, says, "If COVID-19 gets into aged care facilities we know the outcome can be disastrous. People who test positive should be transferred to hospital to prevent major outbreaks and give people the best possible chance of survival.

"We must not discriminate against older people or ration access to hospital care. Aged care facilities are not set up to deliver the level of health care needed for COVID-19 treatment. We are simply not funded to be intensive care hospitals and need time and support to become ready for a hospital in the home approach. 

"It is very important that protocols are developed to guide the interaction between aged care and the health care system. The aged care environment is simply not set up to provide hospital-level containment and treatment. 

"Expecting aged care facilities to handle outbreaks without hospital transfers is simply put - age discrimination. Anyone else in the community is rightly automatically given the best possible care in an environment that prevents further transmission."

ACSA is calling on Government to develop new protocols, and commend the South Australian transfer system as well.

Peak body for private aged care, the Aged Care Guild, also backs the move to support older Australians right to hospital care following the Four Corners report.

The Guild is looking forward to the insights that will come from the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety around lessons learnt from COVID-19 response in the sector.

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