14 Apr 2020

Some exceptions for visiting dying relatives at rest homes - Aged Care union boss

From Checkpoint, 5:13 pm on 14 April 2020

Some New Zealand rest homes have been allowing relatives to visit dying patients, but not those with Covid-19.

The country's most deadly cluster of Covid-19 cases is from Christchurch's Rosewood Rest Home, where six people have now died of the virus. 

It includes three men in their 80s and 90s being cared for at Burwood Hospital.

Rest homes have in general not been allowing visitors but Aged Care Association chief executive Simon Wallace told Checkpoint there have been exceptions.

"Across all our rest homes we have had very, very strict visitor protocols right since the beginning of March. But we have allowed family members to visit loved ones on compassionate grounds at end of life or palliative… That has been done with respect to all the strict hygiene regulations that have been in place."

Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said on Tuesday that health officials were now looking at whether the rule for visiting elderly people dying from Covid-19 should be relaxed.

"We've certainly welcomed today what the Director-General has said about that in the interest of families," Wallace told Checkpoint

"This is a tragic situation, it's really difficult for everybody involved. And perhaps the saddest thing of all is that the families of those that have died were just not able to be with them in the last days of their life.

"It's an emotional strain for everybody… there's a lot of people affected by this."

A review has been ordered into aged care after the latest deaths in the Rosewood Rest Home cluster. 

Dr Bloomfield said the review would be carried out in conjunction with the Aged Care Association.

"My understanding of the review the Director-General announced today was to look at the six facilities where there have been Covid-19 outbreaks, and look at what's worked well and what hasn't worked so well, and then look at another six facilities where there haven't been outbreaks. 

"We welcome that work and we will participate in that work and we will facilitate that work. We think that that's the right thing to be doing here. 

"But I think there's also some perspective on this, that there are more than 650 rest homes around New Zealand with 35,000 residents. So this is less than one percent of sites. 

"It's a very small number of residents that have been affected. And I think that just demonstrates the great jobs that we have been doing, and the job that we've been doing here in New Zealand by everybody. This has not been the situation overseas."

Wallace told Checkpoint it was "unfortunate" to hear Dr Bloomfield talk of "deficiencies" in regard to the aged care review. 

"I can only think that he was referring to Rosewood when he made those comments and I think that was unfortunate because it … might have created a perception that there were deficiencies across the whole industry," Wallace said.

"We're doing a really good job and I think the other thing is that we are a professionally run industry by registered nurses and by highly trained and qualified caregivers," he said.

"I would think that our sector would be one of the last to come out of any lockdown… And I don't know what Level Three will look like at this point."

He said he could not put a timeframe on when New Zealanders would be able to visit their elderly relatives in rest homes. 

Since early March, the association had been asking for personal protective equipment (PPE) for aged care workers. 

"I have to say it was quite an effort and it took a number of weeks for that equipment to arrive. What I can say now is that our rest homes have very good access to PPE. Albeit there are one or two pockets of DHBs where it's not the case, and we're working on that."

He said as New Zealand was now weeks into dealing with Covid-19, there should not be areas of the sector without PPE.

"And I think those questions need to still be asked of the Ministry [of Health] and the DHBs."