7 Apr 2022

Other measures being used to protect vulnerable elderly in resthomes

8:34 pm on 7 April 2022

Some resthomes are no longer requiring people to show vaccine passes before visiting loved ones after the relaxation of rules this week.

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Resthomes say they have extensive measures in place to keep elderly people safe. Photo: 123rf

Instead rapid antigen tests are among measures aimed at keeping Covid-19 away from vulnerable older people.

Vaccine mandates remain in place for aged care workers and they must have a negative RAT before starting a shift.

Although many resthomes are choosing to still sight vaccine passes from visitors, others are not, instead making special arrangements for unvaccinated people to see residents.

Anna Blackwell, who owns the Cook Street Nursing Care Centre in Palmerston North, said as rules changed it was time to start thinking about operating when managing Covid-19 in the community.

Resthomes had long dealt with outbreaks of viruses, so were used to keeping residents safe.

"You can't lock families out and you can't live in fear, but you can't also open the doors and go, 'There's nothing to worry about,' because, clearly, we're in a demographic where a big Omicron outbreak isn't what we want for our staff or our residents.

"I feel like we're in a real balancing act and a turning point, and it's just knowing when it's safe to make that turn."

The Cook Street Care Centre doesn't require vaccine passes any more, but visitors must have a negative test before they're allowed in.

Blackwell said throughout the pandemic it had made exceptions for unvaccinated people to visit, such as using extra PPE or arranging outdoor visits.

"What's best for residents is they have family contact. We have to always be balancing that, wanting to get more families in here so residents can have that value in their lives as opposed to making sure we're not putting residents and staff at risk from unnecessary Covid transmission.

"It's a balancing act all of the time."

Negative rapid antigen test insufficent

Auckland University epidemiologist Professor Rod Jackson said rapid antigen tests weren't reliable enough to be a definitive diagnostic device, although they were useful in limiting transmission.

"I've just been told about some old age care homes where they're now allowing people in who aren't vaccinated, so you can come in without a vaccine pass and all you need to do is have a negative RAT.

"I just don't think that's sufficient for that extremely high-risk setting."

A Bupa spokeswoman said its resthomes weren't requiring vaccine passes, but it was unfair to dismiss rapid antigen tests in isolation without taking into account other measures taken to keep Covid-19 at bay.

"We are confident that we can follow the government's guidance, that visitors no longer need to show their vaccine passes, because all employees and the vast majority of our residents and visitors are fully vaccinated and because of the extensive processes we have in place to keep our residents and people safe," she said.

All visitors and employees were tested before entering Bupa rest homes. Measures in place included wearing PPE, physical distancing, hygiene and infection prevention practices, and limiting visitors to two at a time in a resident's room.

Elderly person in lockdown, isolation, isolate, Covid-19, mask, mental health.

Photo: 123RF

The spokeswoman said Bupa was following a legal requirement in the updated Covid-19 protection framework orders that said aged care homes couldn't deny people, apart from workers, entry on the basis of their vaccination status.

A Ryman Healthcare spokesman said its resthomes were still requiring vaccine passes for routine visits because they were essential to help protect residents.

Extra measures were taken for unvaccinated visitors, such as them seeing residents in special rooms that were cleaned between visits.

New Zealand Aged Care Association chief executive Simon Wallace said its advice for resthomes was to keep sighting vaccine passes for visitors, as they provided an extra level of assurance.

"That's because of the vulnerability of the people that we are looking after. Our residents, obviously, have a number of health concerns and they are most at risk from the virus."

Vaccine passes were one of the "lines of defence".

It's an approach Grey Power's aged care and retirement villages national advisory group chairman Roy Reid endorses.

"It's fairly important that they protect their residents from the virus as much as they can. They've done a damn good job up until now of stopping the virus spreading into resthomes, so they've got to continue to manage it.

"There's a lot of virus in the community, as we all know, and older people are very vulnerable because the standard of their health is not good."

Many resthome residents, however, had been doing it tough for the past two years because of visitor restrictions, Reid said.

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