Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier is to begin a series of targeted inspections this week to provide an independent assessment of how secure aged care facilities are responding to COVID-19.
“I have to act now because several aged care facilities now have clusters of the disease and sadly a number of people have died,” Mr Boshier says.
“Up until the COVID-19 pandemic, my team has been doing orientation visits to aged care facilities with the intention of starting inspections from mid next year. I have reset my plans due to the present crisis and have now been confirmed as an essential service to undertake these inspections.”
Mr Boshier says his assessments will focus on key issues concerning the care of a particular group of at-risk aged care residents — those who are detained in the facilities.
“My role is to provide independent oversight of the treatment of some of the most vulnerable people in the aged care sector — people who are kept in locked facilities because of dementia or some other cause,” he says.
“I believe the public needs reassurance about two things — that the facilities are doing all they can to prevent the virus from spreading to those most at risk, and that steps are being taken to make sure the basic human rights of residents are protected.
“I have also been concerned at local media reports about the dislocation of families during the lockdown, where residents have little or no access to their loved ones.”
He welcomes the decision by the Director General of Health to order a review of the facility outbreaks and to write to District Health Boards asking them to systematically assess the readiness of aged residential care providers in their area.
Mr Boshier says New Zealand has signed up to an international treaty known as the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT) to protect the rights and conditions of those held in detention. The Chief Ombudsman is designated by the Minister of Justice to carry out independent inspections under OPCAT.
He is also monitoring the treatment and conditions of people held in other places of detention, including prisons and other health and disability facilities during this time.