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.”