Fingers are being pointed in all directions at the Coronial Inquest into 45 deaths at St Basil’s Home for the Aged in Fawkner.
On Wednesday, the court heard about the mishandling in the procedure to bring in replacement staff. On Thursday, the court heard what went on in the month before replacement staff were brought in.
Kathy Bourinaris, the daughter of St Basil’s resident Fotini Atzarakis, said the facility operated like a “circus”. Her mother, who had Parkinson’s, entered St Basil’s for two weeks of respite care on 29 June but remained locked in the home during the COVID outbreak from 9 July, tested positive on 17 July and passed away in hospital 12 days later.
“When I think of a circus, I think of people running around, ongoing craziness, just not knowing what is going on and that is the feeling I got when I rang (St Basil’s),” Ms Bourinaris told the court. “Why don’t you know what is happening? Why don’t you know what to do? Why don’t you have structure and a plan?”
Ms Bourinaris hoped her mother, once she tested positive to COVID-19, would be taken to hospital despite being asymptomatic. “I thought ‘these people don’t know what they’re doing. My mother is not safe. I need her to go somewhere where they know what they are going to do’ and we wanted her out of there,” she said. “We wanted her out of St Basil’s.”
When Ms Atzarakis was taken to Austin Hospital she was scared with “people there suited up, strangers around her” but the family was able to establish contact with her.
“She said to me, ‘I’m not well’, speaking in Greek and I tried to give her courage,” Ms Bourinaris said, adding that there were some Zoom calls organised and contact re-established at the medical facility.
Ms Bourinaris said a social worker had been appointed to communicate with her family. “I felt like it was just, ‘tick the box, you’ve got a social worker, yeah, we’ve done that’,” she said, stating that the only thing she needed to know was about her mother’s belongings, but she did not even get an answer on that. “I never got a call back.”
“I can tell you the first time I received anything from St Basil’s was when they wanted to do a one-year memorial. Before that, I got nothing from nobody,” she said.
Ms Bourinaris was also called months after her mother passed away to be asked if her mother was “still interested in care and respite and wanted a tour of the facility”.
“I’m thinking, ‘how much worst can this get, when four months later they don’t know what they are doing,” she told the court.
Staff members left to their own devices
Nurse Annabelle Fitzpatrick said “we never do training” when asked how she had been prepared. “For me training could take one hour or thirty minutes but there’s nothing I can call like training,” she said, referring to the lack of formal instruction.
Jasmina Velkoski, who worked at St Basil’s, said she had to bring her own mask before the outbreak. She said she first saw masks available for visitors on 11 July, and staff only received protective equipment on 13 July.
James Mee, a personal care attendant said that staff were not given directions regarding the wearing of PPE and they were told by senior nurses that masks were not necessary. On the contrary, staff were told that wearing masks would only scare residents.
Mr Mee said that in a staff meeting after the first positive case among the home’s workers on July 9, Nursing Director at St Basil’s Home, Vicki Kos, told them not to panic or worry.
“Staff members were quite concerned about how we were going to care for residents who had COVID or what the plan was. Vicki just laughed at staff concerns,” he said on Thursday.
Ms Bourinaris said “someone needs to be held accountable”.
“Something needs to be done. My mother should still be here and so should these other 45 people. No one else should ever go through this,” she said.
“For me, I’m worst know than I was back then,” she said.