Aged and vulnerable residents of privately run retirement villages must arrange their own COVID-19 vaccinations because they do not live in federally funded aged care facilities.
- Privately funded retirement villages fall under Phase 1B of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout
- Residents must arrange their own vaccine through the federal government website
- One family says on-site vaccine clinics should be extended to retirement village residents
In one instance, the family of an 89-year-old Brisbane woman who has severe dementia and cannot walk is now planning to take her to a community GP for vaccination despite her extreme anxiety at any small change.
According to industry data, there are about 2,350 privately-operated retirement living facilities across Australia, with about 190,000 residents.
Many retirement village residents live in independent units but need high levels of care and support, and the average age of residents in Australia’s retirement villages is 81.
The federal government’s Phase 1A vaccine rollout aims to vaccinate 190,000 aged and disability care residents in federally funded aged care facilities, and more than 318,000 aged care staff, but has fallen well short of its targets.
Most recently, 85 residents of an aged care home in Laidley, west of Brisbane, were told they would be vaccinated this week, but the vaccine never arrived.
But retirement village residents in privately-funded facilities are not eligible for on-site vaccination under the first phase of the rollout, instead falling under Phase 1B.
Phase 1B will see 6 million people over the age of 70, healthcare and high-risk workers, and adults with certain health conditions, get vaccinated through their GP clinic in the community.
‘Tightly controlled’ vaccine distribution
Leo Roessen is the son-in-law of an 89-year-old Aveo Freedom Care Albany Creek resident who has severe dementia and cannot walk.
His mother-in-law, whom the ABC has chosen not to name, lives in her own apartment but requires high levels of care and does not recognise her own family.
On March 26, Aveo’s chief executive Tony Randello wrote to residents and urged them to get vaccinated.
He notes that the company “does not have a supply of vaccines, nor is it an approved vaccine distributor”.
Mr Roessen said he was upset to learn they would have to take their mother into the community to be vaccinated.
“The state of Mum’s dementia is that we really can’t change her environment at all because she gets so anxious, and it lasts for hours and days,” he told ABC Radio Brisbane.
“The only option would be that we arrange when we can to go there, go through the motions to get her booked in for a clinic appointment, which might be six weeks away.
His mother-in-law’s regular GP offers in-house visits but is not currently a vaccine-administering clinic, according to the eligibility checker website.
Retirement villages in Phase 1B
An Aveo spokeswoman said the company’s four Commonwealth-funded residential aged care facilities fell under Phase 1A, but its privately funded Freedom Care Communities fell under Phase 1B.
“However, Aveo are currently in communication with the Department of Health’s COVID-19 Vaccination Taskforce – Aged Care and are exploring the possibility of extending the Phase 1A in-reach vaccination clinics to Freedom Care Communities to support our residents with high-care needs,” she said.
A federal health department spokesperson said retirement village residents should use the government’s COVID-19 vaccine eligibility checker website to arrange vaccination.
“Australians currently living in retirement villages will receive their vaccines through community vaccination locations,” the spokesperson said.
“In Phase 1B, these locations include GPs, GP-led respiratory clinics, and Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service clinics.
Ben Myers, executive director of the Property Council of Australia’s Retirement Living Council, said some retirement village residents had similar levels of vulnerability and healthcare needs as their peers in federally funded aged care facilities.
“There’s no real comprehension of the breadth of residents in retirement communities,” he said.
Most significantly, he said, staff in retirement villages were not in line for early vaccination under the federal guidelines, as they were not considered aged care workers.
“Right from the outset of COVID it’s been a real challenge for the retirement village sector because neither the Commonwealth or state governments have really recognised the role these communities play in protecting older vulnerable people,” Mr Myers said.
Chief executive Mark Tucker-Evans of the peak seniors’ advocacy group, Council of the Aging Queensland, said retirement village legislation was a state responsibility, while the federal government was responsible for aged care homes.
“Retirement village managers could work with the government to arrange a time for mass vaccinations of people living in their villages.”