Newmarch House, one of the first aged care homes to be hit by COVID-19 in 2020, is now at the centre of a class action lawsuit alleging that negligent health care caused the death of 19 residents.
Altogether, 37 residents and 34 staff members tested positive for COVID-19 in April 2020 as the virus tore through Anglicare’s Newmarch House.
Staff members thought they were prepared, and the facility had been in lockdown since March 23, but it would go on to experience 65 days of heartache.
It was New South Wales’ largest aged care outbreak at the time, worsened by a lack of understanding, confusion over leadership and public panic over the recently arrived virus.
The disorganised response and a large number of deaths – a 46% mortality rate for positive residents – form a key part of the class action. Family members of those who died believe that more should have been done to protect their loved ones.
As a result, Shine Lawyers have filed a class action in the NSW Supreme Court on behalf of 25 family members whose relatives died during lockdowns.
The class action alleges negligent health care. Shine Lawyers Associate, Emily Clarke, told Australian Associated Press (AAP) both Anglicare and the Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District of NSW Health are also named as defendants in the case.
“Death was a sad reality of the pandemic but lives could have been saved at Newmarch House,” Ms Clarke said.
“Residents were being treated in a facility at the home which clearly was not able to care for them properly when they should have been transferred to an actual hospital as quickly as possible.
“We allege it was both the operators of the home and NSW Health whose failures contributed to these deaths.
“On top of this, the poor communication with family members outside the home caused serious psychological injuries to the group members in this class action.”
Other claims in the class action allege “grossly inadequate and incompetent” failure of personal care, stating that some residents were not showered, toileted, medicated or fed when they should have been.
At one stage it was alleged that just one Registered Nurse was on site to care for 28 positive residents.
Last year, a Coronial Inquest into the outbreak revealed “chaos and dysfunctionality” as 87% of staff members were forced to isolate, including a large number of surge teams that came in as backup.
Mark Fahey’s mother, 76-year-old Ann, died on May 2, 2020. She was the 14th Newmarch House COVID-19 fatality.
Now, Mr Fahey is leading the class action against the home that once provided high-quality care for his mother.
“I’ll never understand how the situation got as bad as it did. It just seemed like everything they did led to another failing and another life lost,” Mr Fahey told AAP.
“Mum was happy and enjoyed living at Newmarch House and had a lot of life left to live.
“Nothing will bring her back, and we’ll spend the rest of our lives wondering what would’ve happened if they’d managed the outbreak properly.”
Lynne Halpin’s mother, Olna, suffered an aortic rupture after recovering from COVID-19
Halpin said her mother’s death could have been prevented with clearer communication, as she said Anglicare initially did not disclose that COVID-19 was in the facility.
“[It was] terrifying for her because she’s watching it on TV and they’re starting to die,” Ms Halpin told A Current Affair.
“She’s screaming, crying, ‘Get me out of here, I’ll pack my bag, I’ll meet you at the door in the morning. Come and get me’. To see them end their lives like this was just traumatic.
“Newmarch House actually went from such a wonderful place and how sad that it ended up the ‘Newmarch house of horrors’.”