A Tasmanian advocacy group is upset and angry that aged care residents, many who say they feel imprisoned, have been told they can have an in-room phone only if they pay for it themselves.
Advocacy Tasmania chief executive Leanne Groombridge has written to Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck on behalf of more than 5000 Tasmanians living in aged care asking for in-room phones which she says are a “lifeline”.
She said Senator Colbeck had not responded to her letter but had told a concerned Tasmanian the government did not require aged care homes to provide in room phones and residents would have to pay for a phone themselves.
“A phone is a basic necessity and for many aged care residents it is a financial impost and they have no money to pay for it,” Ms Groombridge said.
“They’re very afraid of catching COVID-19 when using a shared phone and worried about how they will stay connected with loved ones when a lock down occurs, and because of the current visitor restrictions in place.
“The government is being self-congratulatory and saying they have phone help-lines but if residents don’t have a phone how can they access it. A helpline is not what they need.
“Many aged care residents are feeling very depressed and anxious and they do not want to use a phone in a communal area where everyone can listen.
“It is incredibly disappointing and we will not give up our campaign for in-room phones for all aged care residents.”
It is estimated that about 40 per cent, or more than 2000 Tasmanian aged care residents, do not have a phone in their room.
Most patients in Tasmanian hospitals have a bedside phone they are able to use.
Ms Groombridge said because of the COVID-19 pandemic residents felt more alone if they had no phone to reach out to family and visitors.
“This is a time no one deserves to feel scared, isolated and alone, especially not our older people.
“Even with restrictions relaxing in Tasmania, we have been contacted by distressed older aged care residents and their families, who are without ready access to a phone, being told that they cant leave their aged care home only for essential and urgent medical visits.
“In some instances, children under 16 are not allowed to visit, only one visit of up to two people a week is allowed and no one after 4pm which means that those who work are unable to visit their loved ones.”
Senator Colbeck said aged care homes were not required to provide a private telephone in each individual room but if a resident wished to bring their own phone, the aged care home must ensure residents had access to telephone sockets in their room.
“If a phone is not a part of the standard fit-out of the room, aged care facilities must ensure that within the home, there is an easily accessible telephone available for any resident to use at any time.
“While the government does not require aged care homes to provide a private telephone in each individual room, there are other initiatives in place to support the well-being and independence of residents.”
Senator Colbeck said government had invested an additional $10 million to fund the Community Visitors Scheme to support people socially isolated by improving friendship and companionship.
Ms Groombridge said she knew of one aged care home in Southern Tasmania who recently prevented a community visitor volunteer from seeing an incredibly vulnerable older person.
“To those in aged care, it feels very much like they’re imprisoned,” she said.
“Advocacy Tasmania is fighting to help reduce the isolation and distress being experienced by older Tasmanians in residential aged care by providing them with private, access to in-room phones and other digital mediums to connect with family, friends and key service providers.
“They must be able to connect with the outside world when they need to.
“We’re campaigning for them to have access to the supports that almost every other Tasmanian had during the pandemic, including prisoners in Tasmanian correctional facilities.”
She said prisoners were able to have virtual visits using Zoom and were provided with extra phone credits to make calls to family, friends, official visitors and the Ombudsman.
“Since the peak of the pandemic in Tasmania, the prison service has relaxed restrictions and prisoners are now allowed contact or non-contact visits, often having more options for connectivity than those in aged care facilities.”