Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt visited St Catherine’s Hostel during a trip to Wangaratta on Monday, but not nearby St John’s Village where eight people died from a flu outbreak last month.
He said he wanted to wait for the outcome of the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency’s investigation into the facility before speaking to management.
The agency is looking into what failed at St John’s, what else could have been done and steps that could prevent a repeat in the future.
“Any outbreak is managed by the provider, but they have to meet a set of standards that the quality agency has put into place,” Mr Wyatt said.
“I’ll make every endeavour to make sure we address these issues and put into place something that is more effective, but at the same time we’re not going to be able to manage every situation because we don’t know how some of these situations are conveyed.”
The minister asked people visiting aged-care facilities to consider wearing a facemask to avoid spreading infection.
“I don’t want to see any deaths in aged care because when we lose somebody because of infection, then the impact on the family is significant,” he said.
The Victorian Health department has denied accusation from the federal government it was too slow to report the Wangaratta flu outbreak.
"There was no delay of notification in the case of St John's Village service in Wangaratta. The outbreak was reported to the Commonwealth regulator within 24 hours of Victoria being notified, which is the agreed reporting standard," a spokeswoman said. "Victoria had not identified any systemic safety issues of concern and made the notification to the Commonwealth on the basis that a significant number of deaths had occurred that the Commonwealth may have not realised."
A federal ministerial workgroup was also looking generally at the needs of aged-care workers, with a focus on regional and rural areas.
Mr Wyatt used his visit to to Wangaratta to examine telehealth facilities at St Catherine’s Hostel, alongside Indi MP Cathy McGowan.
“I want the journey for older Australians, while they’re in residential care, to be a good journey and St Catherine’s epitomises that in terms of the nurse practitioner and the local GP being heavily involved,” he said.
“I’m interested in seeing how the nurse practitioner engages here … If there are pressure points in terms of an illness that might arise, then they’re able to respond with some immediacy.”
Barbara French, a 97-year-old resident, said nurses were always on call when she needed them. “I’ve had great service, couldn’t ask for anything more,” she said.
Special doctor check up via video
If a trip to hospital can be avoided by using the latest technology, patients at St Catherine’s Hostel are very happy.
Chief executive Adrian Johnstone said the facility was making efforts to be innovative by introducing the nurse practitioner role, and was looking into basic blood analysis equipment. “Aged care has changed - once upon a time we were probably reactive, now you’ve got to be proactive,” he said.
Nurse practitioner Steve Voogt works with GPs in his role to help develop the best health plan for patients, which can often involve telehealth video appointments.
“It is a fantastic thing for the resident because they’re getting timely specialist care at the bedside, rather than having to travel to Melbourne or Albury,” he said.
Unlike other nurses, nurse practitioners have some powers of GPs, such as prescribing medication.
St Catherine’s was one of the first to take on role and Mr Voogt asked the government to help get more up and running at similar facilities.
Minister’s visit welcomed
Ms McGowan congratulated St Catherine’s Hostel for demonstrating its successful model of aged care.
She acknowledged the “exceptional support” nurse practitioners provided to a heavily-burdened rural GP workforce.
“St Catherine’s demonstrated best practice in how regional communities use expertise and local knowledge to deliver successful programs,” she said.
“My invitation to the minister was an opportunity for the practitioners to put the case for access to adequate Medicare rebates and training resource to meet future demand.”