Heartbreaking reason residents can now leave nursing homes
A TOUGH public health order preventing Queensland aged care residents from leaving their nursing homes to attend funerals has been amended by Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young.
Under the directive introduced during the coronavirus pandemic, aged care residents have been banned from venturing outside their facilities except for medical appointments, in an emergency or if they are at the end of life.
Dr Young amended the order today, allowing aged care operators to permit residents to leave nursing homes to attend funeral services. Residents or their families are also entitled to apply to Dr Young for an exemption to the directive, which would allow them to leave on other compassionate grounds.
Aged care residents have experienced the toughest of all restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic with some nursing homes introducing measures beyond Dr Young's directions.
Although nursing home residents are permitted one "care and support" visit a day for up to two hours under the Chief Health Officer's public health restrictions, some aged care facilities have banned family visits altogether.
Others are preventing visits on weekends, even stopping families from seeing aged relatives on birthdays and Mother's Day.
Federal Health Department data shows that 29 of the 100 Australians who have lost their lives after developing COVID-19 have been in residential care.
Most of those cases have been traced back to contact with infected nursing home staff.
The North Rockhampton Nursing Centre has been in lockdown since last week after an enrolled nurse was confirmed as having the new virus, returning to work even while awaiting the results of her test. Queensland Health has launched an independent inquiry into that case.
Residents at the facility are undergoing tests every four days for the novel coronavirus. So far, they have all been negative.
A Queensland Health spokesman said the department was conscious of the impact public health directions had on people's lives which was why they were regularly reviewed and amended by Dr Young.
"The direction limiting visits at aged care facilities is particularly important, as elderly people are among the most vulnerable to this disease," he said.
"As seen in jurisdictions interstate and overseas, COVID-19 can have a devastating impact on residents and staff of aged care facilities.
"That said, we want to continue flattening the curve so we can safely ease restrictions further and allow people to visit family and friends in aged care."
With just 12 active cases of COVID-19 in Queensland, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Dr Young moved this week to encourage Queenslanders aged in their 70s and older not living in nursing homes to start venturing out again.
"For our older citizens here in Queensland, they have done a fantastic job. But they have really borne the brunt of this," Dr Young said. "They have been isolated and that is not good. We need to slowly, but carefully, have people come out and mingle in society. This is the time for people to start engaging with other people but in a very, very safe manner.
"I encourage all of our population to think about how they can safely go out and visit friends and family. That's really, really important. If you want to go to your favourite shop, maybe give them a call and ask them how busy they are.
"If you want to go to your favourite restaurant, give them a call, talk to them: 'When aren't they busy,' and, 'Could you have a special table'?"
Six Queenslanders have died of COVID-19, all of them aged in their 60s or older.