Aged care has emerged as the weakest link in Victoria’s battle against coronavirus. Five of Australia’s six deaths on Monday were linked to Melbourne nursing homes as the national toll rose to 161.
The worst outbreak is at St Basil’s Homes for the Aged in Fawkner with 84 cases among residents and staff.
Australia’s Health Minister Greg Hunt has asked for an investigation into St Basil’s after reports of people being left without food and lying in soiled sheets. He said 79 of 115 residence have been transferred, and more will be moved on Tuesday.
The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, the federal government’s aged care regulator, threatened to revoke the licence of the aged care facility on Monday night.
St Basil’s was issued with a Notice to Agree, citing concerns about the impact of the outbreak and the response of the facility. Under the notice, the aged care provider must not accept new residents until it can demonstrate the satisfaction that the “serious risk” to aged care recipients has been effectively and adequately addressed.
Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner Janet Anderson told The Age the commission had developed concerns about the response of the provider to COVID-19. “These concerns include ongoing challenges apparent in implementing an effective outbreak response in a timely manner, and in fulfilling responsibilities to provide timely communication relating to the care of individual residents,” she said.
St Basil’s issued a statement on Monday stating the management had immediately implemented requirements of the Notice to Agree, but some of the families with loved ones in the facility have voiced their concerns.
Residents have come out from various aged care facilities, including St Basil’s stating their concern. Metaxia Tsihlakis is devastated and enraged by the lack of responsibility she claims nursing home residents had received during the pandemic which took the life of her mother Georgia Mitsinakis, aged 84. “It is my understanding that they did not take the virus seriously and when the situation got out of hand it was already too late,” Mrs Tsihlakis told Neos Kosmos.
Spiros Vasilakis told Neos Kosmos that he felt anger and deep grief towards the nursing home after his mother Maria Vasilakis, 81, tested positive for COVID-19 a few days after her birthday. She died within a week, but he said she would still be alive had the aged care provider taken proper precautions. “On 10 July, and while all staff members at St Basil’s were supposed to be wearing protective gear, especially after a positive result within the facility, my mother celebrated her birthday. My sister filmed a video to send to her daughter in Greece and a staff member can be seen handing my mother flowers without gloves on,” he said, adding that the residents had been in lockdown since March but families would be able to see them from outside the window. “While there was much austerity towards the families of the residents, none of the staff members – who, mind you, still were in contact with the outside world – wore protective gear,” he said.
Nikolas Barbarousas told Neos Kosmos that his father, Apostolis Barbarousas, who died in hospital at the age of 70, had been a resident of St Basil’s for the past six years and that he had been satisfied. “The situation declined dramatically due to coronavirus. Communication became problematic and during the last week it was tragic,” he said, adding that the change in management after authorities took over from St Basil’s did not help matters.
“Since management changed temporarily, the situation has been tragic. We could not communicate with our parents,” Mr Barbousas said.
“Imagine… my father was fighting for his life in hospital and I received a phone-call from the nursing home notifying me he was in his room at St Basil’s. When I asked the call-centre they told me he was in… Adelaide”.
There are currently 700 people infected with COVID-19 in the 61 aged care facilities with recorded cases in Melbourne.
Aged and Community Services Australia as well as Victorian opposition leader Michael O’Brien have called for positive cases to be immediately transferred to hospitals rather than the current situation which hospitalises elderly residents when it is deemed necessary. They say the elderly have the best chance of survival when they are hospitalised sooner rather than later.
St Basil’s Homes for the Aged around Australia come under the aegis of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia. The church issued a press release on Monday.
St Basil’s Homes for the Aged – Victoria, together with the Holy Archdiocese as a whole, are greatly pained by the loss of lives and mourn our loved ones who have now fallen asleep. These individuals will remain in our prayers as will their families.
As we move forward, we remain committed in ensuring that the pastoral needs of each resident and their families are met. Clergy will continue to facilitate pastoral interactions with families affected, using modern technology, to provide comfort.
Yesterday [Sunday] evening, a representative of our Holy Archdiocese and the Chairman of St. Basil’s Homes for the Aged in Victoria, joined the residents and their families, in a meeting organised by the Australian Government. The meeting was an opportunity to discuss our shared concerns which are the result of the outbreak of COVID-19 in our facility, the interim measures introduced and also our acknowledging of and agreeing with a notice to agree issued by the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission. We have immediately implemented the requirements within the notice as agreed with the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, relating to the monitoring and management of the COVID-19 outbreaks at Basil’s and we will continue to cooperate fully with both levels of government so that we can address the needs of our residents and their families.
We understand that the direction that we received from the Victorian Government for our regular staff to self-isolate from 9am on Wednesday 22 July was an act of precaution for the health and well-being of our residents and our staff during this testing time, which is also our priority and it is shared by both the Australian and Victorian Governments and the Board of Directors of the Home.
At present we are fully co-operating with the current management of the home which has been brought in by the Commonwealth Government and who are now in control of the home from the date that we had to leave. We are pleased to see many of our COVID-19 infected residents are being transferred to hospitals for further treatment. We await the test results of our employees and as soon as they are cleared we are eager to return and continue in our mission of caring for our residents.
As of today [Monday], the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre, established by the Australian Government will co-ordinate and expand resources to tackle the challenge of COVID-19 in aged care services. This will enable effective responses for all Aged Care Facilities and ensure communication with families remains prioritised during this time. This, we pray, will reinforce provisions that are there to ultimately protect the lives of those we care for most.
We pray that the pandemic which has entered our Home and affected many other facilities across the State of Victoria, quickly comes to an end. Our thoughts remain with our residents who are in our facility under lock-down, those being treated in hospital, their families, the families who are dealing with the loss of their loved ones and all who are working tirelessly for the good of all people affected.
We remind all that St. Basil’s NSW/ACT, SA and WA are all separate entities and not in anyway related to the facility in Victoria. By the grace of God, there are no COVID-19 infections in any of those facilities and the management and staff in those facilities are working hard, together with the Holy Archdiocese, to ensure the continued safety and health of their residents.
We continue to pray for all the elderly in Homes for the Aged across the nation currently affected by COVID-19 and for the health and wellbeing of all Australians during this pandemic.
CASES AT AGED CARE HOMES
St Basil’s Home for the Aged in Fawkner – 84 cases
Estia Aged Care Facility in Ardeer – 82 cases
Epping Gardens Aged Care in Epping – 77 cases
Menarock Life Aged Care Facility in Essendon – 62 cases
Glendale Aged Care Facility in Werribee – 53 cases
Kirkbrae Presbyterian Homes in Kilsyth – 57 cases
Estia Aged Care Facility in Heidelberg – 50 cases