St. Basil’s Home for the Age in Melbourne has faced an inquiry to answer why 50 residents of the care home died between July and August 2020. It has been uncovered that the existing staff were furloughed, meaning that the facility could not provide enough personnel to adequately look after the residents, leading to severe cases of neglect, with one resident left unable to speak due to dehydration. The Australian Associated Press has the story.
In an opening statement counsel assisting Peter Rozen QC said staff at the home were deemed ‘close contacts’ and furloughed on July 22nd, with the Commonwealth taking over the home despite multiple warnings that regular staff should not be replaced.
He said one doctor involved in the response, Dr. Rabin Sinnappu, warned that furloughing St. Basil’s staff would result in disaster, while another doctor described it as a “shocking” idea.
Rozen said a lack of care for residents had become apparent by the end of the first day of the takeover, after the Federal Health Department could not find enough new staff.
“There were far too few of these workers at St. Basil’s for them to have provided care at the level the residents deserved and the law required,” he said.
The court heard that by July 23rd, pathology staff visiting to test residents found the conditions “shocking to say the least”.
The Medical Director of Melbourne Pathology, Dr. Ellen Maxwell, alerted the Victorian Health Department in an email that Covid-positive residents were mixing freely with others, bins were overflowing, PPE had not been cleared and medication was on the floor.
She said one staff member was in tears, appalled that a patient who had died was wheeled out of the home with no attempt to clear the corridor of people.
The first witness at the inquest was Christine Golding whose mother Efraxia, 84, caught the virus at the home.
She testified that St. Basil’s had provided good, culturally appropriate care for her mother, but during the outbreak her mother’s treatment was inhumane and degrading.
Although Efraxia could not feed herself, several trays of food were found left in her room, and at one point she was no longer able to talk due to dehydration and lack of food, Golding said.
She recalled the facility manager warning that if staff were furloughed, people would die from neglect rather than Covid.
“That sent a shiver up my spine,” she told the hearing.
During the outbreak a group of residents’ families met outside the home, and when staff would not tell them who was in charge, they began banging on the windows until the police were called, she said.
“It was a state of chaos and desperation… the anger was driven by fear,” she said.
“Australians deserve to know why our aged care Covid preparedness was so poor, why it spectacularly failed my mother and contributed to her premature death.”
Rozen said the inquest would not lay blame on the workers brought in to care for St. Basil’s residents, saying the evidence would show a number of them went “above and beyond”, but the circumstances were impossible.
He also explained that an expert report would show the delay between the notification of the first Covid case at the home on July 9th, and test results becoming available on July 17th, was a root cause of the failure to contain the outbreak, as was a lack of co-ordination between state and federal health departments.
45 residents died from Covid, but the inquest is also covering five other deaths at the home during the same period.
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