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Friday, December 8, 2023

St Basil’s operators face coronial inquest

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The operators of a Melbourne nursing home that was ravaged by a COVID-19 outbreak have formally requested to be excused from giving evidence at an inquest.

Kon Kontis and Vicki Kos on Wednesday faced the Victorian Coroners Court and requested to be excused from testifying on the grounds they may incriminate themselves.

Kontis and Kos were running St Basil’s aged care home in July last year when a COVID-19 outbreak led to the deaths of 45 residents.

State Coroner John Cain said he could require both of them to give evidence but provide them with a certificate that means nothing they say at the inquest can be used against them unless it is false information.

The request is still being considered.

Last week, a woman whose mother died from COVID-19 after living at St Basil’s told the inquest excusing the pair would be a “slap in the face”.

“What transpired should never have happened,” Helen Karikas, whose mother Vicky Patsakos died in August 2020 after she got COVID-19, said.

“The evidence has demonstrated how many opportunities were missed to prevent this tragedy.

“I’m calling on you now – please do not allow Vicki Kos and Kon Kontis to be excused from giving evidence.

“If they do not take the stand it will be a final slap in the face for everyone.”

Outbreak managers replaced the entire St Basil’s staff with an emergency workforce on July 22 last year, during Melbourne’s second wave.

Within hours of the handover, inexperienced nursing staff were struggling to care for the mostly Greek-speaking residents, who had already missed meals and medicine.

No Greek interpreters were provided to assist the new workforce until July 27.

One of the replacement workers, Robert McDougall, broke down as he recounted being given nothing more than the address of St Basil’s before reporting for his first shift.

There was no handover process, no information about how many residents had COVID-19, no resident records and no names attached to their rooms.

McDougall said many residents appeared dehydrated and struggled to swallow.

He thought some were at risk of choking.

Residents also weren’t being served food properly.

“There was just no one running anything,” McDougall said.

He told management there weren’t enough staff at the Fawkner facility and later discovered many of those who were there were inexperienced nursing students.

“If a fire broke we would have had no hope,” McDougall said.

St Basil’s recorded its first COVID case on July 9, 2020.

Senior doctors warned the afternoon before the July 22 handover that replacing regular staff was a “shocking idea” and the plan would turn out to be “a disaster”, the inquest was told previously.

The hearing continues. 

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