Eye of the storm
Coronavirus outbreaks at two Sydney nursing homes have highlighted the virus’s threat to aged care residents and staff.
By the second week of May, COVID-19 had hit a minimum of 17 nursing homes around Australia and taken the lives of 26 residents.
In NSW, the spotlight fell on two Sydney nursing homes: BaptistCare’s Dorothy Henderson Lodge at Macquarie Park and Anglicare’s Newmarch House at Penrith.
Dorothy Henderson Lodge became Australia’s first COVID-19 cluster after learning on 4 March that one of its employees had contracted the virus.
Three of its residents were among the first four people to die from coronavirus on Australian soil.
Despite being one of the first to be challenged in handling the virus in an aged care facility, the Dorothy Henderson outbreak appears to have been generally well-managed.
The outbreak was officially over by early May.
In contrast, Anglicare’s handling of the Newmarch House outbreak was controversial.
At the time of publication the virus had killed 19 Newmarch residents – almost all of whom were palliated onsite – and infected more than 70 staff and residents.
“We are in the eye of a storm,” Anglicare CEO, Grant Millard, said on 21 April, 10 days after the first infection at Newmarch House was confirmed.
“Everyone is struggling to find staff for us, including the Commonwealth Government and eight agencies. On some days we struggle to have a full staff complement, and it’s no one’s fault,” he said.
He said it was taking staff at least five times longer to deliver care to residents because of the need to dress in full PPE, follow a stringent hygiene regime, and maintain social isolation.
Even a simple task like giving a COVID-19 resident a phone to make a call took five times as long because of the need to put on and take off PPE and clean up, he said.
Royal Commission to look at Newmarch
Newmarch became the only facility in Australia to be disciplined by the industry regulator, the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, over COVID-19 so far.
The Commission handed Newmarch a formal notice of compliance and told it to appoint an independent adviser.
And the federal minister for aged care, Richard Colbeck, called on the current Royal Commission into aged care to examine Newmarch so “we understand properly what has occurred here”.
On at least 10 occasions, Anglicare media statements thanked state and federal health authorities for their “significant”, “strong” and “generous” support at Newmarch House.
Despite this, Anglicare has argued publicly with state and federal health authorities over how the outbreak was handled.
While some residents needing ventilation were hospitalised, Mr Millard said all COVID-positive residents should have been sent to Nepean District Hospital.
He told The Sydney Morning Herald that Anglicare could not get enough registered nurses into Newmarch House in the early days of the outbreak and could not get enough personal protective equipment (PPE) for all staff.
A NSW Health spokesperson told the Herald that under nationally agreed guidelines on managing COVID-19 in aged care facilities, residents would be transferred to hospital “only if their condition warrants”.
The spokesperson said Newmarch “struggled to comply with their responsibilities under the national guidelines” and said NSW Health then “assisted in providing infectious disease specialists, palliative and geriatric specialists” to work in the facility.