inquest into the deadliest elder care in Australia Beginning of the Melbourne St Basil’s COVID-19 epidemic

An inquest investigating Australia’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreak in elderly care has heard that senior Victorian health officials were alerted about the appalling circumstances at a Melbourne nursing home just days after the Commonwealth assumed control of the institution.

The horrific details have been presented to Victoria’s coroner, who is looking into the deaths of 50 inmates at St Basil’s Homes for the Aged at Fawkner, in Melbourne’s north, in July and August of last year, 45 of whom died with COVID-19.

On the first day of the inquiry, it was revealed that medication was left on the floor, trash were overflowing, and at one point, a dead patient was wheeled out in front of other residents.

Doctors expressed concern at the decision to lay off regular employees as the St. Basil’s crisis spiraled out of control and warned it may have “disastrous” repercussions, according to Coroner John Cain.

In the second part of 2020, flaws in Victoria’s disastrous hotel quarantine program caused the state’s devastating second wave, which eventually spread throughout the aged care industry.

Residents of aged care facilities accounted for more than 75% of COVID-19 deaths in Victoria last year.

According to the inquest, residents of St. Basil’s called the police.

Devastated family members today told the coroner that they once went to St. Basil’s and started banging on the windows in an attempt to get information before being intimidated by personnel.

One of the individuals who passed away at St. Basil’s was Efraxia Tsalanidis, according to Christine Golding, whose mother was one of the residents. “One of the nurses came out… and they said if you don’t stop that, we’re going to call the police,” Christine added.

“I do remember [someone] calling the police, the Fawkner police department, and he said our parents are kept prisoner in there,” she recalled.

“My mother was subjected to harsh, cruel, and degrading neglect at St. Basil’s.

“I hope that this disaster in Australian aged care is never allowed to happen again.”

The coroner was given a distressing photo taken by Ms Golding through a window of Ms Tsalanidis lying in bed, wearing a white T-shirt and gazing out into space.

Her daughter testified at the court that she had witnessed her mother’s final days firsthand and described them as “terrifying, lost, awful.”

She remarked, “I never in a million years thought it would be the way I would locate my mother, that I would get to spend the last moments with my mother.

“It has been tragic. It was traumatizing.

“I want the real account to be reported and recorded.

“Australians ought to understand why our aged care Because COVID-19 preparation was so inadequate, it utterly failed my mother and caused her to pass away too soon.

The ‘fundamental cause’ of the catastrophe is a lack of federal-state coordination

Judge Cain ordered all attendees to stand in a show of respect as the names of the deceased inhabitants were read out in court at the beginning of today’s inquest, which will hear testimony from 65 witnesses.

Judge Cain will look at the outbreak’s origins at St. Basil’s, its spread, the decision to lay off personnel, and how future tragedies might be avoided. He will also look into how well-prepared the state and federal health departments were for the outbreak.

The coroner was informed that the inquiry had received an independent assessment from Ian Norton, a specialist in disaster and emergency health responses, who determined that a lack of coordination between state and federal health authorities was a “root cause of the tragedy at St Basil’s”.

The Chief Health Officer of Victoria, Brett Sutton, furloughed St. Basil’s staff members who were seen as close contacts as the tragedy worsened on July 21, 2020, against the advice of doctors, staff members, and the owner of St. Basil’s, the inquest was told.

40 residents and 19 employees had tested positive at the time.

Victoria’s health department, Commonwealth health officials, and local medical professionals had a number of meetings in response to the decision, which they all described as a “shocking idea.”

The coroner’s assistant, Peter Rozen QC, claimed that Commonwealth employees had been substituted.

All those in attendance appeared to be aware of the possibility that the replacement labor could not be able to provide care to the same levels as required by law, Mr. Rozen said.

The nation’s Chief Health Officer Brendan Murphy was informed by Australia’s Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer Alison McMillan that St. Basil’s was “fit for purpose” when she visited the hospital on the morning the facility was to be turned over.

Patients need care, but there aren’t enough people to do it because of the COVID-19 danger.

But after 48 hours, cracks started to show.

The medical director of Melbourne Pathology, Ellen Maxwell, called what was happening at St. Basil’s “shocking” and stated that staff members were in tears in an email to senior Victorian health officials.

“She explained that positive and negative residents were mingling freely; PPE had not been cleared from the last visit; bins were overflowing onto the floor; and medication was on the floor,” said Mr. Rozen.

The qualified nurse on Dr. Maxwell’s staff was “appalled that a deceased patient was wheeled out… without any attempt to clear the corridor of people,” according to Dr. Maxwell.

At this point, we just note that on July 21, 2020, a number of top Commonwealth public workers in Canberra—none of whom had ever visited St. Basil’s—made choices regarding the residents despite very obvious warnings from the same doctors who were providing care for the residents.

The employees who were hired to care for the residents, according to Mr. Rozen, would not be held accountable during the inquest.

“There were far too few of these workers at St Basil’s for them to have provided care at the level the residents deserved and the law required,” he claimed.

“They were trying to care for over 100 frail, old people, many of whom were suffering from a terrible and extremely contagious disease while functioning under a governance and management framework that was completely insufficient.

The evidence will, if anything, show that some of the substitute personnel went above and beyond.

The investigation goes on.

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