Coronavirus Victoria: Infected nursing homes kept secret

Aged-care facilities infected with coronavirus are being kept secret from the greater public for fear of reputational damage.

The revelations were made as senior government officials including Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck fronted a parliamentary probe into the COVID-19 response.

Almost 100-aged care facilities and 25 home-care services have had a positive case in Victoria, according to government figures released on Tuesday.

At least 657 residents and 594 staff members have tested positive to coronavirus at nursing homes as well as 17 home-care recipients and 24 staff members.

More than 250 older Australians have been evacuated from facilities across the state.

When asked if a list of affected services would be made public, Senator Colbeck said the Government had stressed to facilities that loved ones who had a family member in care should be advised.

“I’m reluctant to have a public hit list of facilities that have been unfortunate enough to have an outbreak of COVID,” he said.

“I am concerned about the stress that’s placed on facilities.”

Senator Colbeck said smaller facilities would not have the capacity to deal with a huge influx of media inquiries.

But Australian Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said “the public have a right to know”.

Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck doesn't want a public ‘hit list’ of facilities. Picture Gary Ramage
media_cameraAged Care Minister Richard Colbeck doesn’t want a public ‘hit list’ of facilities. Picture Gary Ramage

Department of Health secretary Brendan Murphy said the facilities in question were locked down, controlled and would not take on new residents.

The committee was told the only way to stop the virus getting into aged-care facilities was to stop community transmission.

However, in an alarming new development, authorities said they were not told about the deadly outbreak at St Basil’s aged-care facility in Fawkner for days – despite protocol requiring the commission be informed within half an hour.

Senator Colbeck said things “didn’t go as well as we would have liked” at the facility.

Staff shortages were a key issue for the home operated by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, which had residents whose first language was not English.

However, it was revealed that worse-case planning scenarios did not include a whole workforce being infected.

“There isn’t really evidence that we’ve seen at this point in time that every single staff member, both career workforce and administration, has been determined to be a close contact,” Senator Colbeck said.

More than 2000 healthcare and aged-care staff are now in isolation or quarantine in Victoria.

Investigations into outbreaks at Newmarch House and Dorothy Henderson Lodge in NSW have highlighted that communication with families and strong facility management were important issues.

Senator Colbeck dismissed claims the workforce issues could have been predicted following the Queensland Earle Haven retirement village scandal – when the facility was suddenly closed due to a pay dispute, leaving residents without care.

Professor Brendan Murphy said ‘no country, no city with that sort of outbreak has been able to avoid substantial aged care infections and deaths’. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage
media_cameraProfessor Brendan Murphy said ‘no country, no city with that sort of outbreak has been able to avoid substantial aged care infections and deaths’. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage

Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner Janet Anderson said 10 facilities in Victoria with outbreaks had been slapped with noncompliance notices since May.

Ms Anderson said a lack of clarity between corporate centres and on-site management about responsibilities could put residents at risk.

“We had evidence available to us that the response to the outbreak was slower than desirable, less decisive, and left the residents of that service at increased risk of harm,” she said.

Prof Murphy said there was no evidence that government-run aged-care facilities had better prevented COVID-19 outbreaks compared with the private and charitable sector.

“The main reason for that (lower cases) is that government facilities are largely outside of Melbourne where the risk of transmission is low,” he said.

Originally published as Infected nursing homes kept under wraps

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