New rest home residents now need negative COVID-19 test first

The unilateral move was announced by the Aged Care Association to guard against the spread of COVID-19.
The unilateral move was announced by the Aged Care Association to guard against the spread of COVID-19. Photo credit: Getty

By Karoline Tuckey for RNZ

From Saturday, no new or returning residents will be admitted into rest homes without a negative test for COVID-19, and those who test negative can be admitted, but will be isolated for 14 days.

The unilateral move was announced by the Aged Care Association, which represents about 90 percent of rest homes in the country, to guard against the spread of COVID-19.

Association chief executive Simon Wallace said the association has notified the Ministry of Health and district health boards of their decision to require testing, but have yet to hear back.

"We want to work cooperatively with both those agencies.

"The association has come to this position because we think it is absolutely imperative to protect the health and well-being of all our existing residents and all our staff," he said.

"And with the availability of testing and the capacity, and the ongoing increase in cases across New Zealand, we don't think this is an unreasonable position given the vulnerability of our older population who are known to be most at risk from COVID-19."

The Director-General of the Ministry of Health, Ashley Bloomfield, on Saturday said as many as 6000 tests are available a day for detecting the virus.

Testing has been ramping up and is expected to increase further as the criteria for which patients are to be tested continues to be widened.

Yesterday 3631 tests were administered nationally - the most carried out in one day, so far - bringing the total number of tests done to 33,116.

Wallace said it is estimated that there are about 700 admissions each week to the association's more than 600 member rest homes.

So far there had been cases in three rest home residents, in Hamilton, Napier and Auckland, as part of the national tally of 950 people confirmed or suspected to have the infection, he said.

"In the cases we've seen we've had really good support from the local Public Health Units and the DHBs in terms of resourcing, and also our other rest homes in the area have pitched in to provide support."

Isolating new and returning residents for 14 days would be a burden on staff resources, but was strategically the right step, Wallace said.

"We've seen that where there is a positive case, either of a resident or staff member, a lot of staff go down - a lot of staff have to go into isolation, and that creates its own problems in terms of staffing."

Staff and residents in the rest homes were doing a good job of obeying directions for social distancing, to protect their bubbles, which was the best practical way to guard against introducing the disease, he said.

And visitors can only come to see a resident in person if they are a palliative patient, or on compassionate grounds.

Earlier concerns the association had that DHBs and the ministry had not been forthcoming with support obtaining personal protective equipment for staff have been addressed, Wallace said.

"We're getting really good support now, so our rest homes... are now starting to get that equipment for their staff and that's been really really helpful, we're making really good progress now."