The decision by the Ombudsman, Peter Boshier, to visit dementia units to “shine a light” on conditions there during the COVID-19 lockdown also means he will bring a fresh perspective to an aged care sector that can only benefit from his independent eyes.
While some in the sector may bridle at what they see as yet another audit process, the Ombudsman’s move means scrutiny at the highest level, reporting directly to Parliament. Rather than simply checking a provider’s level of compliance with existing rules and standards, the Ombudsman’s inspections will take a broader view – are the human rights of residents in secure dementia units being protected? If not, is that the result of something within the provider’s control or is it due to bigger issues, such as the sector not being adequately resourced?
Until COVID-19 pulled the rug out from under all our plans, the Ombudsman was making orientation visits to aged care facilities as part of his responsibility to ensure the rights of residents, particularly those in secure dementia units, are being upheld and respected. Formal inspections were to follow from July 2021.
That timetable has been put on hold and instead the Ombudsman has launched a programme of inspections for secure aged care facilities to ensure that any measures used to combat COVID-19 do not unnecessarily or disproportionately affect the rights of residents. Of particular interest is the effect of Ministry of Health rules requiring all those taking up residence in a facility to now be isolated for 14 days. Meeting this requirement is particularly stressful for those with dementia.
The Ombudsman is also concerned by reports of families and whānau becoming anxious about how their loved ones are being cared for, given that they cannot visit and see for themselves.
To minimise disruption, facilities will be given at least 48 hours notice of an inspection and asked in advance for relevant information, including a copy of their health and safety protocols. The small inspection teams will focus on COVID-19 issues.
Already, some providers have been notified and visited by the Ombudsman and his team, and feedback from them has been positive. Information gathering rather than finger pointing was clearly the aim, and the inspections were concentrated on how the facility would deal with the required 14-day isolation for new arrivals, especially in dementia units. Being able to demonstrate compliance with the Health Quality and Safety Commission’s guidelines on COVID-19 seemed to make for a good start.