The CEO of an independent aged care home in NSW is calling for help from the government as she is forced to reinstate some lockdown visitation measures and her home is on the brink of running out of PPE.
Viv Allanson, chief executive of Maroba nursing home in Newcastle, had previously spoken out in the media, accusing Scott Morrison of throwing the aged care sector “under the bus” by not allowing providers to impose their own strict lockdown measures.
Three months down the line and Allanson is still worried that she may fall foul of the government and the aged care quality safety commission as she restricts visitors coming from Victoria and Sydney coronavirus hotspots, and will only allow visitors by appointment in an effort to combat the potential spread of the virus.
Allanson says that her home simply does not have the resources to allow unfettered access to residents as it lacks the staff to conduct extensive screening of visitors without appointment.
She is also fed up with some visitors not abiding by the current rules such as social distancing and staying away if you are from a coronavirus hotspot.
“I had someone wanting to come from Victoria and tried to tell us that they’ve had two weeks isolation. That person’s brother rang and said, ‘She hasn’t had two weeks isolation in new South Wales. She’s just sitting at home in Victoria, but still going to the shops.’ And she’s told me that she’s had two weeks isolation so should therefore be able to come and visit her mother here,” Allanson said.
Aged Care Insite spoke with Allanson soon after she attended a meeting with residents to inform them that visitation rules would be reintroduced –including physical screens between visitors and residents – and she says that she has their full support.
“They were backing every decision I was making. I was talking to them through all this. And so today, as I’m taking the steps to wind back the visiting arrangements to make them tighter … they said ‘Viv we’re with you, we want you to do it, we want you to take this step,’” Allanson said.
“They’re disappointed that humanity can’t follow some general guidelines to protect the vulnerable.
“When the government is focusing on the economy, the economy, economy, they’re not thinking about the vulnerable. Now, they’ll tell you they are, but the actions tell a different story. For instance, they knew very well, and I know that they were being advised by health experts to close the borders before the school holidays. And they didn’t. It got out. It’s all over the place now.
“So, I closed Maroba’s borders to Victorians at the beginning of the school holidays, even though the government hadn’t.”
Another pressing issue for Allanson and Maroba is access to PPE and as of Friday, they had nearly run out of gloves and cannot source a new batch. Government help has been lacking and she believes that the government will only act if, and when, an outbreak occurs at a facility.
“We are desperately ringing every supplier we can find, and have done for months, to get PPE through the door,” she said.
“I’ve written to our local member, I’ve written to the minister, I’ve raised it with every authority I can possibly raise it with. Stop telling everybody that there’s this wonderful stuff called PPE, and that you’ll give it to us when we have COVID. We’re trying to stop getting COVID. We’re trying to take preventative measures.
“And remember, the whole of the aged care sector was railroaded because we dared to protect people. And we did a very good job. Now, look what’s happened in Victoria. Because the Victorian aged care providers are following the guidelines that the government issued them. Now, it’s 35 facilities that have COVID in them; you try turning that back.
“We’ve rung the government store, we have rung all of those places, we’ve rung the public health unit, we have rung our local area health service, and they say ‘oh no, well, when you get COVID, we’ll send out something’. Not good enough.”
Maroba is currently in the midst of a picornavirus outbreak and Allanson feels like the home and its residents are all alone. The Maroba dementia wing has been converted to a makeshift isolation wing for sick residents, but Allanson said her residents have not been able to get a test for COVID-19 due to a lack of testing reagents.
“We don’t have enough PPE. And you’re telling us you’re not going to test people… And you’re not giving us the support we need. They just say, ‘Oh, we’ll just treat everybody as if they’ve got it.’ But we don’t have enough PPE for that.
“Now, that flies in the face of infection control practises for aged care. Well, who’s going to stand up before the royal commission about that? Not them. It’ll be me.”
Allanson worries that if any residents do test positive for the coronavirus, she won’t be able to get them out of the home and into hospital isolation. The message she has received so far is that hosapitals would only take patients if they “would benefit from hospitalisation”. She is also worried that ambulances might not even transport COVID-19 patients.
“We’re in talks with COVID patient transport companies because we aren’t confident that the ambulance service within our area would even take people.
“So, we’re negotiating on the side. Because we believe they are Australian citizens and they have the same right as a 30-year-old to be carried off to hospital.”
On top of these issues Allanson said staffing the home during the pandemic has been a challenge, as has the increased costs associated with the screening process and the loss of income due to closing 12 beds to create the new isolation wing, which will cost Maroba $1.2 million per year.
Allanson is angry and concerned, but she is happy in the knowledge that her home has taken the extra precautions to keep people safe because, ultimately, she will be held responsible for any loss of life due to an outbreak of COVID-19, she said.
“We’re taking all the right steps. Now again, government officials, or people from the quality and safety commission might think I overstepped because the code still says, ‘Well, look, you still should be having people in your facility and all the rest of it.’
“But under normal day-to-day business pre-pandemic, if a facility had an outbreak of an infectious disease, the health facility would be shut down. But under visiting codes, I can’t do that. I have to just manage by shutting down a wing, and then limiting people’s movement. All the staff of that area can’t go out of that area. No coming and going from that area.
“Those people won’t be dragged across the Royal Commission. They won’t be on the Nine O’clock news saying ‘Well gee, you played a part in this facility contracting COVID-19. You didn’t obey the rules.’ Then suddenly, they think that now it’s all the responsibility of the CEO,” she said.
“We are fortunate here. We have the majority of our families backing us. And the majority of people are doing the right thing. But as you know, it only takes one that wasn’t doing the right thing to be the one to bring it in.”Do you have an idea for a story?
Email [email protected]