Now that we’re in Level 2 and breaking our bubbles, aged care expert Miranda Smith of private homecare agency Miranda Smith Homecare is urging all Kiwis with a vulnerable older person in their family or whanau to take a close look at their hygiene practices. Building an infection prevention plan to lower the risk of disease transmission should also be considered.
Miranda, whose agency cares for clients across Auckland, Bay of Plenty, Taupo, Hawke’s Bay, Waikato, Wellington and Christchurch, says families need to “think like Bloomfield” when welcoming older family members back into their bubbles.
“What we’re telling the families we work with is that yes, it’s wonderful to be able to visit mum or dad again, but winter is just around the corner and with it comes the risk of a range of respiratory infections. We know that seasonal infections can hit vulnerable members of our community hard. So we’re saying that families should think like our Director General of Health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield might – don’t get complacent, don’t get careless, make a plan and have every member of the family stick with it.”
Miranda Smith Homecare specialises in tailored aged, palliative and dementia care in clients’ own homes – anything from a couple of hours a week through to around-the-clock support. With 95% of carers visiting just one client, risk to the client is far lower than it would be if carers were split across multiple clients in many locations. Even so, all Miranda Smith Homecare workers complete detailed infection prevention training, maintain rigorous hand hygiene, and are instructed to begin each shift by cleaning multi-use surfaces such as benches, door handles, fridge doors and microwave buttons.
“Our primary concern is always for the wellbeing of our client and one challenge we’ll all face at Level 2 is the introduction of more people to our clients’ homes, as families and friends start to enjoy that time together again,” Miranda says. “We’d like families to take the same approach to caring for their loved ones that we do, and help keep the community safe from not just COVID-19 but all viral infections. We’re entering the danger zone for winter illness, and this year vigilance is more important than it has ever been.”
So, what can families do to keep those at risk well? “Write a one-page plan and make sure everyone who is visiting mum or dad – whether that’s friends, family or neighbours – has a copy,” says Miranda. The plan should include:
- Contact details for anyone likely to be visiting your vulnerable family member’s home in case of any outbreak of infection – Miranda Smith Homecare clients all use a visitor sign-in sheet, which can be helpful.
- Mandatory hand-washing each time a visitor arrives at the house – and get the older person to wash theirs too.
- A careful wipe-down, using disinfectant, of surfaces such as handles, doorknobs and benchtops each time a visitor arrives, and regularly throughout the day.
- Thoroughly washing hands before preparing or eating meals.
- A clear directive that anyone feeling even slightly unwell should not come to the house.
Miranda says one of the most vital tools is good communication. “There’s a lot of anxiety at the moment, particularly within our community of older people, who might be feeling confused about the current situation and what the risks are to them. It’s important to let them know that, yes, New Zealand is on the right track, but that good hygiene is still critical.
“It’s also vital that families keep talking and sharing information as they bring their loved older person back in – being honest if they see something unsafe going on, or are concerned that their loved one isn’t fully understanding what to do and when. We always tell our carers we operate a no-blame policy, so long as there’s trust, honesty and communication, and that’s what families need to do too.”