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Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Angry relatives detail Newmarch House flaws and concerns they’d raised

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Nurses were lax in enforcing isolation rules and left concerned families in the dark during a COVID-19 outbreak at Newmarch House early in the pandemic, a coroner has heard.

Nineteen residents died at the western Sydney aged care home in April and May 2020 amidst what, at the time, was one of the biggest outbreaks of the pandemic.

As an inquest into the deaths continues in Lidcombe Coroners Court, Mary Van Put gave evidence that her father Barry Jehan had been allowed out in the home’s common areas despite being in lockdown.

Jehan died on April 28, 2020 at the age of 93 soon after performing the rosary with one of the Newmarch nurses, and five days after he tested positive. He was one of four residents who passed away that day.

On April 20, Jehan took a call where he was spotted sitting outside his room at a time when the home was meant to be in lockdown.

“Is he allowed out of the room now?” Van Put’s sister asked.

“Not really but no one’s here,” a nurse replied.

Van Put said this call raised concerns about the risk of infection this posed to her father who, at the time, had tested negative to COVID-19.

She felt angry because he was not getting the best care available, she said.

At that point early in the pandemic, it was not known whether the virus could have been transmitted through surfaces such as the soft furnishings her father was sitting on.

Before her father tested positive, Van Put said she had tried unsuccessfully to get him out of the facility but received conflicting information about the public health orders in place or orders that could be imposed by Newmarch itself.

During the outbreak, the Anglicare-run home implemented the ‘Hospital in the Home’ program in which residents were treated onsite rather than being transferred to nearby hospitals.

Van Put said that her brother-in-law, a paramedic, had told her facilities such as Newmarch did not necessarily have machines like ventilators and X-ray machines required for an outbreak, or staff trained to use these devices.

“Unless they have ventilators and X-ray machines, they won’t be able to cope with (the outbreak),” he allegedly said.

Virginia Clarke also gave evidence about the final weeks of her father, Ron Farrell, at Newmarch. Farrell died on April 19 aged 94.

He was the second resident to die with the virus.

Early in the outbreak, Clarke said she struggled to find out what was going on from those at the home.

“It was just very poor. There was no communication basically,” she said.

A phone call with her father revealed that meals had not been delivered to his room. He also complained that his oxygen cylinder had not been refilled.

Clarke gave emotional testimony, saying she expected her father to be transferred to a hospital if his condition deteriorated suddenly.

“I thought he might get better treatment in a hospital than in the nursing home. I mean they were dealing with an outbreak at that stage.”

She criticised the public emphasis on underlying health issues of residents who had died at the time, saying COVID-19 had taken away time that they still had left.

“Without COVID, they could have lived a bit longer, long enough to see family again, to see their new great grandchildren … see their next birthday, not to have died alone,” she said in a statement.

The inquest continues.


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