We understand that COVID-19 is having a profound impact throughout the world. However, the potential impacts on retirement villages and land lease communities are of particular concern to all of us, given the age and vulnerability of the residents and home owners.
COVID-19 is likely to present significant and ongoing challenges for the senior living sector for months to come. Operators who do not implement adequate measures risk long-term reputational damage, as well as potential regulatory action. More importantly, they could impact on the safety of their staff and residents. DSL Law is providing assistance to help communities remain as safe and compliant as possible.
Safety within villages and parks
As a starting point it is important to be aware that the recent COVID-19 restrictions placed upon aged care facilities do not apply to retirement villages or land lease communities that only offer independent living. The government’s directions to the general public, aimed at implementing social distancing, should be used as the primary guidance at this time. Actively monitoring government announcements on COVID-19 is recommended, as the situation, and the restrictions, are evolving rapidly.
To help respond to the government restrictions the Retirement Living Council has also made the following recommendations for operators:
- the closure of all indoor community facilities, cafes and restaurants;
- stopping all social sporting activities; and
- limiting onsite beauty and personal care services.
We also recommend temporarily suspending any other activities that cannot be conducted within the new social distancing guidelines.
Operators should explore all practical options for communicating the new health guidelines to the community, such as signage, notices and email communications. Operators are also encouraged to reassure residents of the steps they are taking to protect the community from the spread.
Privacy considerations regarding COVID-19 disclosure
If the unfortunate situation of a confirmed COVID-19 case occurs within the community, there are some privacy implications involved in disclosing the identity of the infected resident. The Privacy Act would normally require that consent is obtained from the infected resident before their identity is disclosed. Although privacy guidance has been updated in response to COVID-19, the prudent response remains to take reasonable steps to obtain consent.
Following a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 within a community, this news should be disclosed to residents and staff, without disclosing the infected person’s identity. In a situation in which an infected person refuses to self-isolate, it is likely that exemptions within the Privacy Act would enable their identity to be disclosed to the community for the purpose of protecting people from exposure to the virus.
Existing safety policies and procedures should be reviewed. In addition, contingency plans should be put in place for the scenarios that may play out in the coming days, weeks and months, including in the case of an outbreak. Residence contracts, site agreements and village rules should be reviewed to highlight any potential risks. DSL Law is available to assist with any document reviews or policy preparation.
The Government has already imposed restrictions on visiting residential aged care facilities in order to protect residents from contracting or coming into contact with COVID-19. It would be prudent to plan for similar provisions to be applied to senior living communities. Additionally, it is recommended all visitors be required to sign-in, and that you request residents provide further assistance by limiting visitors to essential meetings only.
If you have any questions regarding COVID-19 impacts on retirement villages or land lease communities or if you need further information, please feel very welcome to get in touch.