3 Dec 2021

Aged care residents apprehensive ahead of expected spike in visitors

7:27 am on 3 December 2021

Some seniors are feeling nervous ahead of an anticipated spike in visitors under the new traffic light system.

Photo of young carer helping the elderly woman

Photo: 123RF

Among the first to get the Pfizer vaccine, those living in aged residential care now have waning immunity just as local travel ramps up over summer.

Margaret Whitwell, 94, who lives in Tauranga's Bayview retirement apartments, says she's only able to see one visitor at a time with masks on.

"We're not allowed to give them a cup of tea. They just have to visit with a mask on and leave without moving around too much or talking to groups.

"I do accept it's for a good cause. Everybody has to do what they can and we can't recriminate too much. It was worse in World War II."

Bayview residents were getting their booster shots now, Margaret had just had her's. But even then she said she still felt anxious about the new traffic light system.

"How we'll get on with Auckland visitors I don't know, that's still to be seen. But I do think it is spreading in Tauranga, it didn't for a long while and now it's on its way.

"The cat's out of the bag." So we've just got to do our best really and that's how everybody feels I think."

Vaccination remains the mainstay of the sector's approach to keeping Covid-19 out of retirement homes.

Seniors were one of the first cabs off the ranks in the vaccination roll out, meaning many are now eligible for their booster dose.

The New Zealand Aged Care Association represents 95 percent of the 40,000 beds in the aged residential care sector.

Chief executive Simon Wallace said the association's members are ready, able and willing to roll out boosters, and wants this to happen before Christmas rush.

"I would hope that we've all learned actually from some of the mistakes that might have been made with the initial rollout and that we've got the systems in place to gear up and to get those boosters out to residents in rest homes."

Associate Minister of Health and Minister for Seniors, Ayesha Verrall, said varying timing in vaccination roll outs across DHBs meant some seniors simply won't be eligible for a booster by Christmas.

"Clearly there'd be some people who wouldn't be due for their booster by Christmas and we should make sure everyone receives their booster at the clinically appropriate time."

Retirement homes anticipate a spike in visitor numbers over the summer break.

Ryman Healthcare, which has 43 retirement villages throughout the country, was already running a visitors booking system in Hamilton.

Chief operations officer Cheyne Chalmers said visitation by appointment will be the new normal.

And while anyone entering a home will be required to show proof of vaccination, Chalmers said those who aren't jabbed can still visit loved ones.

"We've required them to wear a mask. Again, we managed the visitation. It's not actually in the care centre, so they don't walk in through the care centre, what they do is they can visit their loved ones either outside or in a room adjacent to the care centre."

Chalmers said outings would be managed on a case-by-case basis, with the expectation family members would be just as cautious as aged-care workers.

"So, if we know that someone wants to come and take their mum home for Christmas, we know the vaccination status. The loved ones are going to be just as cautious as we are. They're not going to want to see their mum or dad get Covid, so I'm sure that we will be able to negotiate as well."

Rapid antigen tests to screen aged residential care staff were introduced earlier on 1 December.

From 15 December, anyone will be able to buy one of these the tests from a pharmacy, if a negative test is required to enter an aged-care facility.

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