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Friday, December 8, 2023

St Basil’s staffer tested, allowed to work, inquest told

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A staff member who was the first case of COVID-19 at a Melbourne nursing home where 45 people died was allowed to work despite her husband having “throat discomfort”.

The woman, a personal care attendant known as ‘Ms A’, has told an inquest she and four relatives got tested for coronavirus on July 5 last year in line with State Government advice for people living in hotspot locations.

She had worked at St Basil’s Home for the Aged in Fawkner for several years and went to get tested after a shift.

Ms A said she and her relatives were all asymptomatic and she was told by staff at the testing centre she could still work.

Days later she checked with a registered nurse colleague, telling her, while she was symptom-free, both her husband and brother-in-law were experiencing “discomfort in their throats”.

The nurse, Jag Nagra, told an inquest on Tuesday that because Ms A was asymptomatic the policy allowed her to work.

Ms A attended her shift on July 9 but three hours later was notified that her sister-in-law had tested positive. Ms A notified her superiors and a colleague and went home to isolate for 14 days.

She told the inquiry she never had any symptoms but did not return to work for two or three months.

Ms A initially refused to give evidence at the inquest, telling State Coroner John Cain she was fearful of self-incrimination.

During the July 2020 outbreak, 45 residents of the home died from COVID-19. Judge Cain is also investigating the deaths of five other residents during the outbreak period.

In statements, colleagues of Ms A have disputed her claim she and her relatives were asymptomatic.

One woman claimed Ms A said two of her family members had sore throats, while another said Ms A described herself as more tired than she’d felt even when she was unwell.

She denied both conversations. Ms A will continue giving evidence on Wednesday.

Earlier Nagra told the inquest she was on shift when the first patients started testing positive, several days after Ms A’s positive test.

She revealed hospitals became “angry” when she – at the direction of director of nursing Vicki Kos – started transferring COVID-19 positive patients to hospital by ambulance.

While four or five patients had been transferred another two or three were waiting for ambulances that hadn’t showed up.

“I told Vicki they’re not accepting our residents … no one came to pick them up,” she said in her evidence on Tuesday.

“I said they’re refusing to take the residents, so then she said (she’d) talk to them.”

Nagra believed it was the following day that staff, including doctors, from Northern Health started working within St Basil’s.

After that she believed decisions were made by them, in conjunction with the wishes of residents’ families and next of kin, about whether to send people to hospital.

The inquest is set to continue this morning with evidence from Ms A and others including family members of residents who died at the home.


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