The workforce brought in to replace St Basil’s Fawkner staff on 22 July was “completely inadequate”, containing new graduates who had never worked in aged care before, according to reports in The Herald Sun.
Some never turned up for work, others broke down in tears and left soon after starting on their first or second day. Some contracted COVID-19 and were forced to isolate.
Only 10 days after St Basil’s staff were stood down, all residents were taken to hospital in an emergency evacuation.
The former director of the Commonwealth Aged Care COVID-19 implementation branch, Neil Callagher, now retired, told the Department of Health’s Maree Roberts that replacing staff was “an extremely high risk proposition and further endangers the welfare of residents”.
“I would recommend this strategy not be attempted, the preferable option should be to decant all residents [to hospital],” he said, according to reports in The Herald Sun.
However, Roberts insisted the move was “a public health decision based on public health risk”.
Professor Sutton was not present at meetings where doctors said it was a “shocking idea” to stand staff down, The Herald Sun reported.
Callagher told the inquest he was so disturbed by the Victorian government’s orders to replace the workforce, he told the inquest he considered resigning from his job.
However, the inquest heard he did not tell the Victorian public health unit that finding a surge workforce was impossible.
The night before the takeover, Callagher received a “completely inadequate” replacement staff list from Aspen Medical, which had been recruited by the government to provide surge workforce staff.
Receiving the staff list was “extremely disturbing,” he told the inquest.
Callaghan’s concerns were well founded. Residents deteriorated as soon as the St Basil’s workforce left, with inexperienced staff allowing dehydration and starvation to become rampant.
Lawyer Mary Anne Harley QC, for Victoria’s Department of Health, said there was such “pervasive widespread infection at St Basil’s that there was no alternative” but to stand down all staff as close contacts.
But St Basil’s nurse Jagmeet Nagra told the inquest she was so concerned about handing care over to the inexperienced staff who were taking over, she offered to continue working in order to help.
“We were very worried, and the residents were worried too, really, because all the new faces were coming in,” she said.
During the handover, Nagra asked the incoming staff, “How long [have] you been working in this industry?”
“I can recall two of them was their first shift in St Basil’s,” Nagma told the inquest.
Conditions at the home were described as “horrific” by a nurse from the Victorian Health Department, Kirsten Congerton, who visited St Basil’s on 23 July, one day after the staff takeover.
Residents were starving and dehydrated, sitting in unchanged continence aids and with medications lying scattered about. One resident was dead and others were dying during her visit.
The inquest also heard that “young, inexperienced” deep-cleaning staff at St Basil’s left the highly infectious home after six residents died of COVID-19, and went to the local shops on 25 July dressed in PPE to get a bite to eat for lunch.