Official visitors 'barred' from Canberra aged care facilities
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Official visitors 'barred' from Canberra aged care facilities

Three Canberra nursing homes allegedly blocked official visitors from entering to check up on disabled residents, risking fines worth tens of thousands of dollars.

Bupa Calwell, Uniting Mirinjani and St Andrews Village said they had no record of official visitors being prevented from carrying out thir duty.

But according to the Official Visitor for Disability Services 2016-17 annual report, there had been an "ongoing issue for the entire year" of official visitors being denied entry.

"There may be seven residents in residential aged care facilities which the Official Visitor for Disability Services has been unable to visit," the report said.

"All other residential aged care facilities have been welcoming and cooperative in enabling visits to be made."

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According to ACT law, official visitors can enter any accommodation provided for a person with disability, including any residential aged care facility that accommodates a person with disability who is less than 65 years old.

Hindering an official visitor or failing to answer their questions can result in fines of $7500 for an individual or $37,500 for an organisation.

There are 17 aged care facilities in Canberra where 57 people with a disability under 65 years live.

Official visitors went to see 39 residents during 15 visits.

Uniting's director of residential and health care services, Saviour Buhagiar said official visitors attended their nursing home several times during 2016-17.

He said former official visitor Sue Salthouse had even written to them at the end of her tenure in August to thank them for help in enabling access to residents.

"Uniting has made contact with Ms Salthouse today to understand and learn from the circumstances discussed in her report. Uniting will review the entire report and incorporate recommendations into its practice," Mr Buhagiar said.

A Bupa spokesman said they "take seriously any responsibilities that apply to aged care under the Official Visitor Act 2012 and we are currently working with the home to understand the specific circumstances surrounding this case".

St Andrews Village acting executive director Muhammad Syed said they had no disabled residents under 65, had never stopped an official visitor from entering and would welcome an official visit.

A spokesman from the ACT COmmunity Services directorate said they were working with aged care providers to clarify the role of the official visitors for those providers, and emphasise the right of younger people with a disability in nursing homes to be visited by an official visitor.

The report also said the official visitors were concerned there were new disabled residents under 65 in nursing homes.

"Greater effort needs to be made to find alternative accommodation, and not use residential aged care facilities as the default option," it said.

The Young People in Nursing Homes National Alliance said around 6500 young Australians with disability were in a nursing home, occupying about 5 per cent of residential aged care beds.

Some suffer from progressive diseases such as multiple sclerosis or Parkinson's disease; others sustained catastrophic acquired brain or spinal cord injuries or suffered strokes and heart attacks.

Some people with lifelong disabilities can also end up in aged care because their parents or primary carers become too old or ill to continue caring for them, the alliance said.

Katie Burgess is a reporter for the Canberra Times, covering ACT politics.

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