Jan 17, 2022

Families call out government for ‘heartbreaking’ failures in aged care lockdown

Residents in lockdown
Image: A Current Affair/Nine.

Elderly loved ones continue to be constrained under perpetual lockdown as the cases of Omicron intensify and staff are finding it increasingly difficult to manage. 

Speaking to A Current Affair, Jan Beale said, “The patients and the residents are confined to their rooms. No exercise, no fresh air, if they go in the corridor they’re chased back into their rooms.”

The only way she has been able to talk with her husband of 50 years has been through a window at a distance. 

Her husband Alan, 74, is living with Parkinson’s disease and dementia. For some time he has been under lockdown at his nursing home residence due to COVID-19 cases with no sign of the lockdowns easing. 

Both Mr and Ms Beale are fully vaccinated and willing to get tested, but the lack of wiggle room is frustrating. 

Regarding the situation of her husband, Ms Beale shared, “He is a prisoner.

“They’ve been abandoned, they’re not allowed to do anything.”

Zia Cole’s mother, Wendy, also lives with dementia, and is currently in an aged care residence struggling with an outbreak. 

In keeping with lockdown rules, last week family members were only permitted to visit at a distance outside. However, the newly implemented distance has had heart wrenching repercussions. 

“She got up very abruptly and said, ‘I’m coming’ and almost ran through the doorway so that she could be at the fence where we were, and that’s where she tripped and fell and broke her hip. It was very distressing to see her through the fence.”

“We’re supposedly protecting the old people by locking them down, but actually my sense is there’s a lot more destructive outcomes happening.”

Catherine Mills’ mother-in-law, Brenda, turned 80 on January 11, but Brenda had to spend the day alone in her aged care room due to lockdown. 

Wanting to celebrate in some way and do something special for Brenda, Catherine and her daughter, Kimberley, recall how they tried to send flowers to the care home, only to discover that even flowers weren’t permitted. The florist was turned away at the front door. 

Conveying the distress, Catherine said, “We couldn’t come and see her, we couldn’t get presents to her, we couldn’t get cards to her.

Kimberley raised her concern of whether her family will ever get another chance to see her grandmother. 

The families who were interviewed by A Current Affair wanted to be clear, their frustration is not with the aged care facilities caring for their family members.

Their concern is focussed on the rigid 14-day isolation rules dictated by the government for residents who come into contact with the virus. These rules need to end, families say, arguing they are unsustainable and cruel. 

An aged care worker in north west Sydney, Tatsuya, said, “It’s hard to see that they’re dying by themselves without family. It does affect us a lot and emotionally I don’t know how I’m coping, but I need to make sure that I go forward for the rest of my residents.”

Tatsuya goes on to explain that the rigid isolation rules, and increasing COVID-19 cases, are triggering a staff shortage, with around 20% of staff needing to isolate.

Highlighting the financial distress this is causing, Tatsuya spoke of casual worker colleagues in isolation not getting paid.

Tatsuya shared, “One of my colleagues, she’s a single mother of three, and she’s isolating now and she’s getting nothing. And she was crying on the phone like, ‘How am I going to feed my children?’”

Gerard Hayes, Health Services Union (HSU) president, has conveyed the seriousness of the situation – with active outbreaks at hundreds of aged care residences across the nation, staff are at breaking point. 

He questioned, “One person looking after 40 people, now how can you do that?

“These people living in aged care aren’t going to be there for 10 years. This is the rest of their life.”

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  1. There is nothing in either the Public Health Orders or NSW Health advice to residential aged care providers that precludes visitors when residents are either terminally ill, or suffering severe emotional distress. What is evident is that some aged care management, and some public health staff are not fully conversant with the rules that apply to the various situations. It is evident that a significant proportion of aged care providers have been implementing visiting restrictions well in excess of those recommended as they either do not understand or cannot adopt a risk based approach. In the last few months the Public Health Units we have dealt with have significantly ameliorated their approach and advice to how to manage the presence of coronavirus in staff and residents. For example the introduction of Exposure as an identifier of infection amongst staff, but not residents.

  2. The big question is what can the ordinary citizen do about this we are in a helpless situation and under the control of a bungling power driven government. The Age Care Home I am associated with claims they are following government policy that alone says a lot about the mess our Age Care system is in.

  3. If I was a family member of an age care residents I’d be more worried about the disgusting tea time meal And the fact nothing is fresh ALL frozen crap and I mean crap. I work in aged care the nursing staff are doing all we can to protect residents But it’s the facility them self that make the rules up and blame the government so family don’t question them it’s the Thing in aged care need to change and that can only start when family question the operation and the bosses and how much money their take away from your family love ones the money your loved ones pay doesn’t go to the government it go in the pocket of the residential facility so the can feed you family member with frozen spring rolls party pies frozen chicken strips frozen wedges and the list go on

    1. Wendy, why don’t you name and shame where you work? If it’s as bad as you say then it’s your duty.
      As to the level of profit or loss I’d suggest you get some facts because sadly you clearly have no idea of the massive losses that facilities have been suffering because of the liberals funding cuts in 2015.
      It’s easy to criticize though when there is no risk.

      1. I don’t care what government in their all the same just sad every one still vote for them idiots I might not have a clue what would a carers know it’s obvious you are way smarter getting aggressive towards me for telling the truth. I don’t need to say we’re I work their all the same The problem with aged care is bigger then any government
        You also don’t say we’re you work but I will say hope they get better food

  4. This is a tragedy of enormous proportions however society need to acknowledge that if we are being advised “to learn to live with Covid’, than that means that some people with die with Covid. This disease leaves no halfway measures. Aged Care facilities have borne the brunt of this epidemic with little assistance from Commonwealth Government. There are still facilities waiting for booster clinics and there is an article in the paper today about a fourth booster! If it wasn’t so tragic it would be a total farce.

  5. This is the reality of Aged Care. Looking after 40 residents on your own is also not unusual even before Covid. Industries cut staff hrs on all shifts. Even on night shift when you have only 6 staff ND one RN they have decided to cut one staff members 8 hrs to 7 and a half hrs. That half an hour is saving the facility alot of money over 12 mths! This is how currupt some of these places are. They don’t care about anyone but the bottom dollar. Most should never have been given the option to run an Aged care industry as it is stuffed! Ask the many staff who leave throughout the year and why they leave in the first place.

  6. I have just made a complaint to My Aged Care on this topic. I can never get a straight answer if the imprisonment is at the behest of the Nursing Home rules or NSW Health. My husband has now had and recovered from COVID, yet there is no way they will let me see him – even in the garden socially distanced.

    1. Clearly your husband was at risk previously and was fortunate to recover but you should spare a thought for the most vulnerable in the facility that could be endangered..like your husband was. What of their choice to stay safe? Your husband can be reinforced and take covid inside. Are you okay with that?

      No one is in prison, take your husband home and look after him, no rules against that. You can go in, tell the facility manager that you are taking him home and you can do so immediately. You can’t do that in a prison. Of course you would have to reapply to take him back.

  7. Wake up people you get vacinated so you can be free but it seems that it hasn’t made no difference fight for your loved ones freedom as this is starting to be like prison and the old generation are suffing this is called being restraint by the government.

  8. i can’t thank the nursing home my mum is in enough. Well looked after even throughout lockdown First one was window visits only. This one only one visitor a day and only in the garden . Their welfare comes first. It is hard on the families and also the patients but at least this nursing home is taking every precaution. Any visitor must be RAT tested before entering g Must wear a N95 mask. No kissing and hugs. The staff have sometimes (actually a fair bit) been abused and all for looking out for our loved ones. I understand how hard this is but they are vulnerable and need to b looked after. As i am also a healthcare worker i know how hard it is But just remember they are trying to do the best they can under rotten circumstances. A lot of staff is spending more time at work than with their own families and not for the money I can assure you but because they care


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