People have been quick to criticise the Andrews government during this pandemic especially over quarantine processes. But these same people seem reluctant to call out the Federal Government over lack of proper regulation, oversight and support of private residential aged care facilities which is a Federal responsibility.
Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews said, “I wouldn’t want my mum in some of those places.” Having heard the details of the practices in some aged care homes, I would not want my mum there either.
Like many in the Greek community, I was upset to hear about Greek Archdiocese-run St Basil’s Homes for the Aged, where residents at the Fawkner home were malnourished, not showered for days, soiled and so on. As someone of Greek background I felt ashamed.
Who is responsible for such outrages? If true number one is the facility itself. But equally responsible is the regulator and funder – in this case the Federal Government. Until this was pointed out most Victorians thought this was exclusively the State government and blamed Daniel Andrews.
In terms of the facility, I don’t want to be too critical of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese that runs St Basils, but I think new Archbishop Makarios has much to do to restore public trust. The comments that seek to shift blame from this facility by spokesperson Kon Kontis are unacceptable. They are inconsistent with the testimonies of desperate relatives who could not get information about loved ones or those of the replacement staff that were sent in about the conditions they found.
Action should have been taken immediately upon the first person testing positive rather than simply carry on and wait around for tests to be obtained. The problem of St Basil can be found in gross underfunding and revenue shifting. It made a loss last year of $321,680. But this was after it paid to the Archdiocese a huge rental fee of $2,500,000 and further fees of $99,996. This was always going to be unsustainable.
Facilities like St Basil’s, Epping’s gardens and Estia owned by Tony Antonopoulos and Peter Arvanitis did not protect their residents with tragic outcomes, but they still generated large profits for their owners.
Given so many funerals Archbishop Makarios could begin the healing process by reversing the outdated edict of his predecessor that does not allow relatives to say a few words about their loved ones at funerals. This must change.
Premier Andrews and the State Government have gone out of their way to provide assistance, pulling in staff from nearby public hospitals and other facilities. When the situation became calamitous that the Federal Government intervened and took over St Basil’s.
Minister Greg Hunt was quick to admonish Premier Andrews and defend carers in Aged care facilities: “The idea that our carers, that our nurses are not providing that care, I think, is a dangerous statement to make. They are wonderful human beings and I will not hear a word against them.”
In fact, Victoria’s Premier never mentioned the carers but only the facilities. Hunt’s deflection is a bit much when we are told of the appalling conditions and lack of proper protection that residents endured Scott Morrison’s response to the issue was equally steeped in denial: “public health is a matter for state governments”. Well actually private Aged Care services are the responsibility of the Commonwealth including for regulation, quality of care standards and funding under the Aged Care Act 1997. In Federally regulated private and religious aged care facilities there is no mandated staff to resident ratio and as we have since discovered understaffing is endemic. Only five coronavirus infections have occurred in the State run facilities where mandated ratios apply.
Appalling conditions and lack of proper protection, endured by carers and residents alike, has led to 19 deaths at St Basil’s, 59 deaths in Victorian aged care facilities overall and 1034 infections, as of Friday.
Neos Kosmos front page on Saturday, 1 August.There are untold human stories and tragedies in this unfolding drama that are testing us all.
Over the last weeks my wife and I were faced with the situation of my mother-in-law being hospitalised with health issues. We also faced the reality of needing to place her in an aged-care facility upon her leaving.
As anyone who has gone through this knows, it is a torturous, highly emotional experience at the best of times.
When you are faced with having to make these decisions during a pandemic, when aged-care facilities are being locked down, emotions and sensitivities are indescribably magnified.
She had to face the reality of an existential change in leaving her home, which rips at self-identity and autonomy. Her children faced inevitable uncertainty and guilt.
You come to grips with the reality your parent cannot look after themselves and you can’t look after them.
We did much research and settled on Fronditha Aged Care in Clayton. Then we all went through the fear and pain to reach informed consent.
We now must put our faith in the facility and in the federal government’s regulatory and support processes, assisted by the state government.
Right now, our thoughts are with the other families who placed their loved ones at St Basil’s, Epping’s gardens and Estia. Many of the deceased residents were also part of the Greek community.
Like my mother-in -law, they too came here as migrants and helped build modern Australia. Many of them were known to me. For them we now grieve.
This pandemic should make us all reflect on processes and decisions that have cost lives. But state and federal governments, and private and religious aged-care providers, should resist the temptation to blame shift.
Premier Andrews is right to say every day as he confronts the media that we must all work together and accept responsibility for our own actions as individuals and as organisations, if more of our mothers and fathers are not to be taken.
Theo Theophanous is a commentator and former Victorian Labor minister