Leading aged-care professional Andrea Waring warns that residential aged-care providers must not let down their defences in response to the current low-levels of COVID-19 infection in Australia.
Andrea stresses that aged-care residents will continue to remain at the highest end of the COVID-19 risk spectrum until the virus is completely eliminated or brought under control, which is still some time off.
In the meantime, providers must continue to be vigilant about ensuring their COVID-19 controls are up to scratch and are operating at the highest levels. Unsurprisingly, the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission agrees.
In 2021, the Commission continues to undertake its unannounced spot visits on residential aged care services nationally to observe their COVID-19 infection control defences and to identify potential problems.
Officers conducting the visits will use a range of tools including an infection control monitoring checklist to assess compliance with the Communicable Diseases Network Australia (CDNA) guidelines for COVID-19 Outbreaks in Aged Care Facilities. Link
While the Commission insists their spot visits are not performance assessments, they have made it clear: "where issues or concerns are identified, such as staff not applying correct PPE or adhering to other infection control practices.
Where providers fail to comply with the Commission's directions they will consider further regulatory action; which may include a performance assessment against the Quality Standards or imposing sanctions.
While Andrea believes spot checks are a step in the right direction she also believes providers need to do a lot more to ensure their COVID-10 controls are operating as intended.
Rather than relying on the Commission's spot checks to identify and correct COVID-19 control problems, Andrea believes residential aged-care providers need to carry out their own self-assessments.
"The best way of identifying and correcting COVID-19 control problems before they can result in a major infection incident is through regular internal self-assessments", says Andrea. "Self-assessments can also help providers avoid costly regulatory actions and reputation damage”.
While Andrea concedes regular self-assessments can be time-consuming and expensive, especially for smaller providers, she believes that with the right technology and the right risk-based approach self-assessments can more than pay for themselves, especially given the potential consequences of doing nothing.
"Hopefully, over the next 12 to 24 months we'll start to get on top this dreaded virus and things can return to something like normal,” says Andrea. “In the meantime, residential aged-care providers must remain vigilant and not let down their COVID defences”.
Andrea Waring is the Founder and Managing Director of AW Consultancy. She is a registered nurse with over 35 years of experience in various health settings including aged-care. For more information visit https://awconsultancy.com.au/.