There was no plan for handling coronavirus in nursing homes, according to a scathing royal commission report after 641 people died in aged care facilities.
There was no plan for handling coronavirus in nursing homes, according to a scathing royal commission report after 641 people died in aged care facilities.

Care homes had no virus plan and ‘deplorable’ conditions

The handling of coronavirus outbreaks in nursing homes has been slammed for "deplorable" work conditions and an "insufficient" plan to protect our elderly and vulnerable.

The royal commission's COVID-19 probe found lessons learned in major outbreaks in NSW were not clearly communicated to protect other states before Victoria's deadly second wave.

To date, 800 Victorians have died of the virus, with 641 of those in aged care facilities homes or receiving in-home care.

The federal government will spend an initial $40.6m to implement all six recommendations from the report.

Royal commissioners Tony Pagone and Lynelle Briggs called for immediate action in four areas, including funding for extra staff to allow for "more meaningful visits between people receiving care and their loved ones".

They found tight restrictions on visits to residents by family and friends were having "tragic, irreparable and lasting effects" which needed to be ­addressed.

The commission also ­concluded:

IT was "deplorable" some staff were forced to ration gloves and masks.

THERE was a five-week delay between the World Health Organisation advising health workers to wear masks and the government mandating masks for aged-care workers in mid-July.

THE government needed to mandate every home to have a trained infection control ­officer.

It also found "there was not a COVID-19 plan devoted solely to aged care" but that the federal government tried to adapt a general plan to the sector.

Despite accepting the recommendation to create a specific plan, Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck refuted the commission's conclusion.

 

 

There was no plan for handling coronavirus in nursing homes, the royal commission report found. Picture: David Crosling
There was no plan for handling coronavirus in nursing homes, the royal commission report found. Picture: David Crosling

 

"That plan has continued to be developed and evolved as we have learned more about the virus," Senator Colbeck said.

The national medical expert panel was also found not to have provided any written advice to aged-care providers between June 20 and August 4, as the number of active cases in Victorian aged-care homes skyrocketed from zero to more than 500.

The commissioners said the federal government's response, based on the panel's advice, was "in some respects insufficient".

"Confused and inconsistent messaging from providers, the Australian government, and state and territory governments emerged as themes," the report read.

"All too often, providers, care recipients and their families, and health workers did not have an answer to the critical question: who is in charge?"

Relatives of victims said more needed to be done to avoid further devastation in aged care.

Ivan Rukavina's 86-year-old mother Marija died in July after she was infected with the virus at St Basil's in Fawkner.

He said it was frustrating for people who had lost loved ones to see a report "light on detail" in terms of how things were going to be ­improved.

 

Tom Hyatt’s 89-year-old mother Thelma died in July after contracting the virus at Epping Gardens. Picture: 7 News
Tom Hyatt’s 89-year-old mother Thelma died in July after contracting the virus at Epping Gardens. Picture: 7 News

 

"It shouldn't take two months with 50 bureaucrats to come up with this plan where they're saying they're going to make improvements but not saying how they're going to do it," he said.

"The incompetency at all levels is staggering."

Tom Hyatt's 89-year-old mother Thelma died in July after contracting the virus at Epping Gardens. He welcomed the report but was worried it came "after the horse has ­bolted".

"You see in the news every day more aged-care deaths, and you think Christ almighty they'll have plenty of time to work out what to do because there'll be no poor bastards left. They're all dying," he said.

"The government has got to get stronger and call out the people in charge of these homes who are overstepping the mark and doing the wrong thing."

Opposition ageing spokeswoman Julie Collins said the government had failed ­Victorians.

"Tragically, the Morrison government learnt nothing after outbreaks of COVID-19 in New South Wales and it has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of vulnerable older Victorians," she said.

Aged and Community Services Australia chief Pat Sparrow said the government should implement everything in the recommendations ­"urgently".

"The interface between aged care and the health system has been broken for some time," she said.

"Older people should not have health care rationed."

Earlier this week, Department of Health Secretary Brendan Murphy said some Victorian aged-care deaths could have potentially been avoided if the commonwealth had set up its aged-care ­response centre earlier.

 

SIX KEY RECOMMENDATIONS

 

1. The federal government should report to parliament by no later than December 1 on the implementation of the recommendations.

2. The federal government should immediately fund providers to ensure they can have enough staff to allow continued visits to residents by their families and friends.

3. Medicare Benefits Schedule items to increase the provision of allied health services, including mental health services, should be created.
Barriers to accessing mental health supports during the pandemic should be removed.

4. The federal government should create a national aged care plan for COVID-19 through national cabinet, with help from the aged care sector. Plan should include the establishment of a national aged care advisory body, harmonise the response plan between states and establish protocols on who will decide about transfers to hospital. It should also make sure outbreaks are investigated by an independent expert.

5. All residential aged care homes should have one or more trained infection control officers.

6. The infection control experts should be deployed into residential aged care homes to provide training, assist with outbreak management plans and help with outbreaks.

 

tamsin.rose@news.com.au

@tamsinroses

Originally published as Aged care homes had no virus plan, 'deplorable' work conditions


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