WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS DETAILS WHICH SOME READERS MAY FIND DISTRESSING.
Harrowing new details have emerged about the St Basil’s Fawkner deadly aged care outbreak, as a month-long inquiry gets underway.
A coronial inquest into Australia’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreak in aged care begins today, running for four weeks and hearing from 64 witnesses.
In documents leaked to The Age, horrific new details have emerged about conditions during the outbreak.
A report by the Health Department said the resident was “trying to smash glass front doors, threatening to kill everyone if not let out”. The resident was eventually transferred to hospital.
A site report compiled at the height of the outbreak found there was “no physical distancing [among staff]”, “clinical waste bags lying in corridors, piled up in corridors, in residents’ rooms” and “multiple dirty meal trays lying around,” The Age reported.
A highly experienced nurse who volunteered to care for St Basil’s residents during the outbreak told police it was decades since she’d seen such serious pressure wounds when she arrived at the home.
Another senior nurse was horrified to find St Basil’s 24-bed dementia ward was completely unattended at the height of the outbreak.
“There was one woman who stood out to me. I observed a pressure sore. I hadn’t seen an injury like that in 20 years. It hadn’t been dressed and looked nasty. You were able to see into the wounds and see the tendons,” she said, The Age has reported.
Staff continued to work though family was sick
COVID-19 was brought into St Basil’s by a personal care worker who worked for four days while her family members had sore throats.
The care worker was sent home after a relative tested positive, and even though some of her colleagues were informed why, some staff she worked with remained at work for another three days.
Regulator slow to act
The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission learnt about the outbreak on 10 July, but did nothing about it for four days, by which time the infection was already rampant.
In 2019, the regulator gave St Basil’s the highest quality rating.
In April 2020, the aged care home passed its own COVID-19 readiness self-assessment.
In June 2020, a state government infection-prevention team visited and was “quite positive” about the home’s preparedness for the pandemic.
But a personal care worker told police this was not the case.
“The week before [one visit by the regulator], the outbreak staff were running around putting up signs and posters about social distancing, handwashing. Trolleys were stacked with extra PPE [personal protective equipment], with things like hand sanitiser and gowns, which were seldom on the trolleys.
A police report shows St Basil’s management spent only $6,950 on personal protective equipment for staff between January and July 2020. By comparison, an aged care provider that experienced no COVID-19 cases located in the same area where outbreaks were widespread, Melbourne’s north and north-west, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on PPE.
Families seek answers
During the outbreak, St Basil’s chairman, Kon Kontis, insisted the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese church should continue running the home, which it had operated since 1991.
But control was eventually handed over to the federal government, though the chaos continued.
The surge workforce found the home in disarray. Aspen Medical, the company the federal government recruited to supply staff, could not find enough experienced workers, and as a result, inexperienced staff stepped in.
A telephone helpline set up by the federal government to provide information for families provided incorrect information.
Resident Theodoula Andreou was taken from St Basil’s to Glenferrie Hospital, where a doctor phoned her daughter-in-law to let her know the 85-year-old barely had a pulse and was dehydrated.
Yet a call from the health department helpline at the same time informed her “that Theodoula was in her room and doing well”.
Andreou died at the hospital later that day.
Eventually Victoria’s Health Minister, Brett Sutton, ordered St Basil’s management to leave the home. Once gone, former staff declined to provide assistance, including entry, meaning new staff had to gain new security access cards.
Police told the coroner the fire brigade had to force locks to let residents back into their rooms in the absence of the master key.
There was very little information about the residents on file to help the new staff.
In August, Kontis and St Basils’ facility manager, Vicky Kos, declined to cooperate with a hearing held in advance of the inquest. They will be called to give evidence in the final weeks of the upcoming hearings.
At the start of the outbreak, St Basil’s had 117 residents and 120 staff. Only 49 who lived or worked there escaped becoming infected. By the end of the outbreak, 45 residents had died from COVID-19. Another five residents died from neglect during the outbreak.
Christine Goldberg’s mother, Efraxia, 84, died during the St Basil’s outbreak. Ms Goldberg will appear as the opening witness of the inquiry.
She told The Age she wants to learn the “true story of what happened to my mother”, “why she caught COVID-19, why she was neglected, why she suffered, and why she died”.