A Western Sydney aged-care facility has become Australia’s second biggest cluster of coronavirus deaths, and its chief executive officer has warned more are on the horizon.
Twelve elderly residents with COVID-19 have died at Newmarch House in Caddens and, as of Tuesday night, 56 people at the facility including 22 staff and 34 residents had been infected.
The crisis began when a carer showed up to work with a “scratchy throat” last month, but there has been a stream of dire developments since then.
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How did it start?
The facility’s operator, Anglicare, learnt one of its employees tested positive for COVID-19 on April 11.
The female staffer worked six shifts despite displaying mild coronavirus symptoms.
It was not the first aged care home in NSW to have a confirmed coronavirus case, and Health Minister Brad Hazzard pleaded with workers in the sector to stay home if they were feeling sick.
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On April 18, a 93-year-old man became the first COVID-19 death at the facility and there have been regular fatalities since.
Despite introducing infectious disease specialists to work with the centre, the situation appeared to be deteriorating.
“We do anticipate more deaths, yes,” Anglicare chief executive Grant Millard told ABC News.
What has happened since?
Mr Millard says the nursing home has become a “pseudo-hospital” since it began quarantining its residents, but for a time its resources were stretched.
At one point, more than 55 of its staff were on paid leave either because they contracted the virus or had been ordered to self-isolate at home.
The the state’s chief health officer Kerry Chant reported the carer who introduced the bug to the facility was “absolutely mortified” about the situation.
|April 18||1||93-year-old man|
|April 19||1||94-year-old woman|
|April 21||1||92-year-old woman|
|April 23||1||78-year-old woman|
|April 24||1||96-year-old woman|
|April 25||1||82-year-old male|
|April 27||1||89-year-old woman|
|April 28||4||91-year-old woman
|April 29||1||Not specified|
Mr Millard made desperate pleas to the Federal Government to help with staff shortages, and it has since been offered “unlimited workforce support” by the Commonwealth.
Mr Millard said the workforce was operating at an “extremely high level for a residential aged care facility” with almost two dozen registered nurses, 25 carers, 11 cleaners and other visiting medical specialists.
There are still 81 residents in the facility, but tensions have erupted between their families and Anglicare.
Flowers were left outside Newmarch House at the weekend.(AAP: Joel Carrett)
Why are they unhappy?
Family members claim Anglicare’s communication has been inadequate, say they feel “frustration, disappointment, anger and desperation” about that.
Some were also concerned about the quality of care, with one man complaining his mother fell in the shower and didn’t receive help for at least 10 minutes.
At least one relative, Matthew Fowler who described the situation there as a “black-box” lodged a formal complaint with the NSW Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission.
Resident Lionel Fowler, 87, was happy in self-isolation but his son Matthew worries about him.(Supplied)
In a letter to Mr Millard, a group of the 94 relatives and friends of residents claimed they had learnt of important developments at the facility through media reports, and that phone calls were going unanswered.
The letter made several demands of Anglicare, including increased visitation capacity for family members and the establishment of a hotline so relatives could receive better updates.
The NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Wednesday she was aware of the letter and that her Government had issued a please explain to the Federal Minister for Aged Care, Richard Colbeck.
What’s happening next?
Mr Millard said the family’s requests were “completely reasonable” but defended the centre’s handling of the outbreak.
He said he was holding daily conferences with state and federal governments about the situation.
“Obviously there are tensions at the moment and I guess a difference of opinion, to a certain extent, about how some things should be handled,” he said.
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The CEO said staff had distributed mobile phones to every resident and that people had been brought in to the facility to set up video calls.
Residents might also be allowed to speak to relatives through a window, he said.
Still, the CEO said the situation was “sincerely regrettable” and hoped the family and public could appreciate the complexity of the outbreak.
What you need to know about coronavirus:
Some parts of Australia have had no new coronavirus cases in more than a week.