A QUEENSLAND aged care advocate has warned that strong COVID-19 restrictions must stay in place for the elderly or “the consequences can be catastrophic” as they have been in the United States and Europe.
It’s about balancing prevention, while ensuring the elderly are engaged and connected, according to Marcus Riley, chief executive officer of BallyCara that provides retirement living, residential aged care and community care in south-east Queensland.
“If the virus spreads in those types of environments (aged care facilities) it is very hard to contain – with tragic consequences,” he said, pointing to World Health Organisation figures for Europe that show half of all deaths from coronavirus had occurred in aged care facilities.
“They’ve been in a living hell with both residents and staff dying.
“Through no fault of their own, it’s just how rampant the virus has been in those places.”
Mr Riley is critical of comments made by federal and state leaders about restrictions that have locked down access and meant few visits for elderly residents.
Last week, the Prime Minister called on providers to stop over restricting the visitors and freedom of people living in residential aged care.
“There is a great concern that the isolation of elderly people in residential care facilities where they have been prevented from having any visits from loved ones and support people is not good for their wellbeing; is not good for their health,” Mr Morrison told a press conference.
“And so the national cabinet agreed that there needs to be a strong reminder that the national cabinet decision was not to shut people off or to lock them away in their rooms.”
The PM’s comments drew a sharp response from peak bodies including Catholic Health Australia: “These difficult decisions have not been made lightly and have the support of the majority of residents and their families.”
“We are totally committed to working with families, communities and governments to keep aged care residents and our dedicated workforce protected from COVID-19,” the peak bodies said.
Mr Riley, who is also director of the Global Ageing Network, said residents in aged care don’t need to be confined to their rooms or subject to complete lockdowns, but it’s important to maintain strict restrictions to avoid the elderly death rates that have occurred in the US and Europe.
“What’s been very difficult has been the very limited and compromised access to basic resources such as personal protective equipment (PPE), basic health and medical supplies, and great difficulty getting staff because they are either sick, have families who are sick or are afraid to come to work,” Mr Riley said.
Mr Riley said he knew of cases in the US where aged care providers were paying staff $1000 a day to come to work.
“There is a lesson for us here… if we become prematurely complacent about what we need to be doing then things can change very quickly and the consequences can be catastrophic,” he said.
Mr Riley said the risk in aged care facilities would increase as restrictions were relaxed in the wider community.
“For example, family members who come to visit in the next few weeks as community restrictions are relaxed are potentially going to be more of a threat because they will have exposure to more people and have potentially compromised social distancing and other preventative practices,” he said.
“It is a genuine concern and a genuine threat.
“I just don’t think it can be answered yet (when restrictions should be lifted), because we don’t have enough certainty about how things will pan out over time.”