Infection control is undoubtedly one of the most important facets of providing a diligent level of care within aged care facilities. There are many ways to reduce the spread of infection - among them ensuring that environments are clean, wearing correct Personal Protective Equipment, properly ventilating spaces, and keeping residents at safe distances from each other during times of heightened risk. The onset of COVID-19 has turned a sharp focus onto the standards that are maintained at aged care facilities, with the findings not always being positive. So what are the factors that contribute to creating a safer environment for aged care residents, and how can the built environment help?

“There are a number of factors that contribute to infection risk in these facilities,” says Philip Russo, Director of Nursing Research, Cabrini Health and Associate Professor, Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, at  Monash University. “We're talking generally about older people, which means their immune systems are likely not working as well as they used to, so they can't fight off infections. They may also have other medical conditions which make them more susceptible. In addition, a lot of infection control research and interventions and guidelines are specific to healthcare services and, in particular, hospitals. And we know a lot about those areas, but aged care facilities aren't typically classified as health care facilities.”

The fact that aged care facilities are classified as residential rather than health care facilities has significant implications for the spread of infection - notably, a lack of trained nurses and the knowledge they bring with them. “Over the past couple of decades, there's been a number of changes in the workforce. We're seeing qualified registered nurses in these areas being replaced by a less expensive labour source, I guess,” explains Philip. “And that has consequences, which I think have really been brought to light within the past 14 months with COVID. What we've found is that infection control practices were poor, and education wasn't fantastic.”

The revelations around dubious care levels at our aged care facilities recently sparked a Royal Commission, which returned a recommendation around infection control. “The recommendation was that each aged care facility needs to have a registered nurse employed as an infection control lead. Now that has never been required before, which sounds unbelievable, but that's the truth,” says Philip. “Many nurses who work in other facilities, infection control is something that they have to do, and practice every day. So we're hoping that knowledge and experience will translate into these aged care facilities.”

Apart from mandated registered nurses, and a general increase in the level of education and training around infection control for staff, there are other practical ways to ensure our aged care residents are given safe environments. “Things like no shared rooms,” says Philip. “So every resident or every patient has their own single room. That's a big start. The second one would be that the actual environment and the surfaces need to be able to be cleaned easily and thoroughly. There's a lot of carpet in aged care facilities, there's a lot of materials, there's lounges, there's cushions, there's furniture that you don't see in a hospital. They make the environment more homely, but they're actually really hard to clean and keep clean.”

This need for easily cleanable, yet functional and stylish fixtures is something Caroma has been designing for, for many years. Their Opal collection offers a range of toilets, basins, and shower fixtures that are designed with the elderly in mind. Large, flat surfaces, lever taps, and adjustable heights are hallmarks of the collection’s pieces, which are designed to be customisable based on specific needs while maintaining full functionality. Nonporous enamel and chrome finishes make the Opal collection easy to clean, enhancing anti-microbial properties and contributing towards infection control.

Specifying Caroma’s Opal collection is one step towards improving the safety of our aged care facilities, and the safety of our elderly residents. For more information, visit the website.

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