A woman whose mother died in Australia’s second-biggest coronavirus outbreak is warning Australians not to become complacent, as states begin easing the strict social-distancing measures that have so far helped them contain the virus.
- Bernadette Quigley’s mother Leone Corrigan is one of 19 residents of Newmarch House to die of COVID-19
- Ms Quigley is worried that the relaxing of restrictions could see a second wave of infections
- She says the medical staff at the aged care facility did the best they could for her mother
Bernadette Quigley, whose 89-year-old mother Leone Corrigan died in her room at the Newmarch House aged care facility in Sydney’s west on April 27, said she was scared by the possibility of a second wave.
“It is not until it happens to you that you realise the impact it can have, not just on yourself but on your family and everyone you deal with,” she told 7.30.
“It worries me that people aren’t going to take it seriously and the impact could be devastating, because the second outbreak thing might be worse.”
The deadly outbreak at Newmarch House has so far led to 71 infections (37 residents and 34 staff) and killed 19 people.
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‘Don’t stop. Be really vigilant’
Bernadette Quigley is concerned that easing restrictions may make people careless.(ABC News: Chris Gillette)
Most states began relaxing social-distancing measures over the weekend, with Victoria enabling small gatherings of 10 or less outdoors, and New South Wales allowing pubs and restaurants to open for no more than 10 dine-in patrons.
“It is something that is scary and, really, it’s not the fact of someone dying, like my mum, it’s the way they die and the impact that has on the whole family,” Ms Quigley said.
She said not being able to be by her mother’s side when she died made the pain of losing a parent even harder.
“Not having the opportunity of that final goodbye, that’s the hardest part,” she said.
With funerals generally restricted to 10 people at a time, Leone Corrigan’s family were granted an exemption for an extra eight people so Ms Corrigan’s eight children and their spouses could attend.
Her 26 grandchildren and 37 great-grandchildren were excluded.
Bernadette Quigley says the family missed the opportunity to reminisce about her mother because of COVID-19 social restrictions.(ABC News; Shaun Kingma)
“There were four rows of four chairs, all a metre and a half apart,” Ms Quigley said.
“We couldn’t have it the way we wanted it; we couldn’t have it in the church because of the COVID restrictions.
“We didn’t have the opportunity after to get together to reminisce and laugh.
“The closure still hasn’t happened properly because we didn’t get to say goodbye to Mum.”
The family still has not been able to collect Ms Corrigan’s personal belongings from Newmarch House.
They also don’t know where her wedding ring is. They hope it’s somewhere in her room, which has been locked since Ms Corrigan died.
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Nineteen residents of Newmarch House have died after contracting coronavirus.(ABC News: Lily Mayers)
The outbreak is believed to have started after a staff member worked six shifts with mild symptoms, however, NSW Health is still investigating whether there were any other sources of infection within the facility.
Newmarch House is owned and run by Anglicare, which was heavily criticised in the initial weeks of the outbreak, as concerned relatives protested daily outside the aged care facility demanding more information about their loved ones inside.
Despite the controversy surrounding the handling of the outbreak by Anglicare, Ms Quigley has been quick to defend the medical staff at the centre.
“It seemed very chaotic from the news reports we were receiving and the protesting, but as far as Mum went, I think they did the best they could,” Ms Quigley said.
Ms Quigley said the attending nurse would regularly call her over FaceTime in the days leading up to her mother’s death, sometimes twice a day.
“From what we can gather and from what [Anglicare] have told us, and from the nurse we facetimed with, they were with Mum all afternoon [on the day she died],” she said.
“At times they were praying with Mum and had rosary beads with her, and they took a lot of care with Mum.”
The nurses even brushed Ms Corrigan’s hair and painted her nails.
“We couldn’t be with her but at least somebody was and I believe somebody was with her the whole day she did pass away.”
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Ms Quigley said Anglicare also offered her the chance to visit her mother in person, but cautioned against it.
“They did say we could, but we would have to robe up and stay a metre and a half away from her,” she said.
“But they told us, ‘she wouldn’t know you were there, and she wouldn’t recognise you because of all the [PPE] gear’, and they strongly advised us not to go visit because it wasn’t safe.”
“We weren’t able to see her.
“It was pretty devastating; it created a lot of anxiety for us and we just weren’t sure what was happening.”
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Should patients have been moved to hospital?
Visitors to Newmarch House were forced to talk to their relative, seen here with a nurse, from behind a fence.(Supplied: Elizabeth Lane)
Anglicare has also been criticised for opting to treat patients in-house, rather than transferring them to nearby Nepean Hospital.
But Ms Quigley thinks her mother preferred staying at Newmarch House.
“Perhaps medically she may have been cared for [in hospital], but personally I think it may have been worse for us because I’m not sure we would have had any communication [from the hospital],” she said.
Anglicare declined to be interviewed by 7.30, but in an interview with ABC Radio’s Fran Kelly on Monday Grant Millard, Anglicare Community Services CEO, said he regretted not removing elderly COVID-19 patients from Newmarch House and sending them to the hospital for treatment, rather than keeping them onsite.
“If I had the time again, I would be insisting people who are COVID-19 positive go to hospital,” Mr Millard said.
“In hindsight that would have been my preference.”
Two weeks ago, Anglicare announced it had appointed an independent adviser, Andrew Kinkade, to oversee management of the Newmarch House’s coronavirus response, following pressure from the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, and threats of having its licence revoked.
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