There were infection control breaches, and a lack of food and medicine for residents within hours of quarantining of staff at a Melbourne aged care home, an inquest has heard.
During Victoria’s second wave of the virus in July 2020, 45 residents at St Basil’s Home for the Aged died of COVID-19, after regular workers at the home were declared close contacts and replaced by inexperienced agency staff.
A cook at St Basil’s, Connie Apidopoulos, said the elderly residents at St Basil’s were “like our parents,” and the home was usually a warm and kind place to work.
She usually kept up-to-date records of the special food and drink each resident needed, but on July 22, the day new staff took over, she had just a few hours to brief a replacement worker who had no prior experience.
“I will never forget that day … [it was] very stressful, we didn’t know what was going on,” Apidopoulos told the inquest.
Despite informing her supervisor she was worried about the short handover, she was told she had to be out of the kitchen by 11am.
Staying on in a nearby lounge room, she almost immediately saw new staff breaching infection controls, such as collecting food trays from rooms with infected residents and bringing them into the kitchen.
By 1.30pm residents had missed lunch and had not been given their medication, she said.
“They were coming out from their rooms, very stressed, looking for medications, looking for food … it was a disaster.”
Also on Monday, the inquest heard that more people would have died at St Basil’s if staff had not been furloughed.
Dr Naveen Tenneti oversaw public health policy for high risk settings as part of the state’s COVID-19 response and has told the inquest that most, if not all, staff and residents would have caught the virus had staff not been ordered to isolate.
“There would have been more cases and more deaths,” he said.
Tenneti testified that the decision to furlough workers was appropriate and made after tests showed “significant and worrisome” levels of transmission at the home.
He rejected suggestions health authorities had reacted to the outbreak too late, or that the quarantine order was a “whiplash” response.
He said the orders were based on assumptions that the surge workforce would be big enough and have the skills to do the job, and St Basil’s would co-operate.
Tenneti said if he had known the surge workforce could not meet basic standards, the quarantine orders would have been re-evaluated.
The inquest was told last week that St Basil’s management did not co-operate with the furlough plan, and on Monday the inquest heard suggestions that keys and computer passwords were not provided to replacement staff.
The hearing continues before Victorian State Coroner John Cain.