A distressed staff member at an aged care home in Victoria has described how the home struggled to provide staff as Covid-19 swept through the centre, leaving residents and caregivers overwhelmed.
The letter, sent to Leading Aged Care Services Australia by a nurse, said: “There are NO staff available – we are begging for help with regard to staffing, and no one wants to place themselves in the ‘hot zone’. Therefore, it is all up to our depleted staff to help, feed, bathe, medicate and attend to residents who are basically dying.”
The letter follows the revelation by Guardian Australia on Friday of horrific footage of a 95-year-old woman left to languish in another Melbourne aged care facility, Kalyna Care, struck by Covid-19. The footage showed ants crawling from a wound on her leg and the bandages around it crusted with blood.
The 95-year-old woman died in hospital on Friday from other causes. The virus infected so many staff, including nurses, caregivers and caterers, that at one point there was just one nurse and one personal care assistant looking after 68 residents. Although the management of the home requested more staff for weeks, the situation has been repeated in aged care homes throughout the state, with interstate staff from the aged care sector called in to assist.
The letter sent to Leading Aged Care Services Australia said the unnamed Melbourne aged care home’s first case was diagnosed on Tuesday 4 August after a resident was taken to hospital following a fall. After notifying the Victorian health department and the federal government, the home went into full lockdown.
The staff member said workers were forced to “hound” the Department of Health and Human Services and public health units for testing, which took place two days after the first resident tested positive.
“Since then, to today, 2 residents have died, and at least 5 others are palliative,” the nurse writes. “We now have at least 15 residents who tested Positive. About 23 staff [personal care assistants and registered nurses] who are infected.”
The staff member writes that there had been no communication with families over the previous three days because staff were “working 24/7 because there is no one else to replace them with”.
“If we can’t get ANY staff in there immediately, I don’t know how much longer we will remain open,” they wrote.
The footage and photos revealed by Guardian Australia on Friday were taken inside Kalyna Care, a private residential home in Melbourne’s north-west, on Tuesday, some two weeks after the virus was first identified in one staff member. The woman, known to her family as Milka, died on Friday morning of conditions unrelated to Covid-19.
Care staff brought into the home this week told Guardian Australia that some residents went without food or water for 18 hours. Faeces were found on the floor. An ant infestation, which had been kept at bay, had got out-of-control in Milka’s room.
The staff say they were not given adequate facilities to change out of infection-exposed clothing and basic hygiene was said to have fallen by the wayside, with some residents not cleaned for days. However, management of the home said they asked for support from state and federal government services from even before the first case, in a staff member, was diagnosed. They say despite regularly communicating with families, supplying personal protective equipment to staff, and regular deep cleaning, they struggled as more staff became sick, and they were provided with no assistance from government to fill the gaps in staffing despite raising the issue repeatedly.
When asked about the revelations on Saturday, the Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, said: “I have not seen the footage but I have been briefed on it. That is just shameful and would be very distressing for everybody concerned.
“I want to be careful not to be … critical of any provider but I think, I think that footage relates to a particular facility which we have now taken over, so I would hope, I would hope that any of those issues would be dealt with quickly.
“Hospital nurses have gone and taken over in a number of these situations and I think they have taken over for good reasons.”
Earlier on Saturday, the shadow minister for families and social services , Linda Burney, told the ABC that Labor was calling for a national body focused on the aged care sector, “which I note the prime minister is rejecting”.
“It is just an outrage and I am afraid Scott Morrison’s apology is not going to cut it in relation to so many people that have died in the aged care sector,” she said. “The fact that the government is responsible for aged care and clearly had no plan going into the pandemic is just inconceivable.”
The minister for veterans’ affairs, Darren Chester, said: “I accept and I feel sick to the guts that we have lost so many people in aged care but we need to understand once it gets out into the community, it becomes very difficult.
“I want to work with the federal government and the other states to make sure we get on top of this. It is not about apportioning blame or criticising anyone. The facts are, once it gets out into the community and there is community transmission, the vulnerable people in aged care are very hard to protect.”
When asked if he would support the elevation of the aged care sector from the outer ministry to cabinet, Chester said: “I don’t mind where it sits … The challenge out of the royal commission, the challenge from the pandemic and looking into the future is how we work together in terms of aged care.”
There are 184 deaths associated with aged care outbreaks, Andrews said on Saturday. There are currently Covid-19 outbreaks in 124 aged care facilities in Victoria, 119 of those are in privately run aged care homes.