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Kathie Melocco. Picture: Jenny Evans/Getty Images

Daughter of COVID-stricken SummitCare residents speaks out

“What my family has been through has just been unbelievable,” said Kathie Melocco, the daughter of two SummitCare residents who are currently being treated after testing positive for COVID-19.

“The communication my family’s had and the support we’ve had, we feel let down to be truthful.”

Earlier this month, the SummitCare aged care facility in Sydney’s northwest went into lockdown after six of its residents and five staff members tested positive for coronavirus.

Kathie’s parents were among the majority of residents who received the Pfizer vaccine in April. They both contracted the virus after it was reported that two workers attended shifts while infectious.

It was later confirmed that only two-thirds of the over 200 staff working in the facility had been vaccinated.

“Everyone knows that I was angry – I was furious” she said.

“If mum and dad were vaccinated, why weren’t we told that aged care workers were still in the queue to get vaccinated? I think we had a right to know.”

Kathie's parents, Allan, 88, and Lona, 87, are now receiving care at Westmead Hospital.

“They are not doing so great,” said Kathie.

“Dad’s on dialysis. He had a major bleed out last night, his temperature was 39 and he’s been on oxygen.

“My mum’s not doing so well, and that’s with the vaccination.”

After the outbreak occurred, a lack of crisis counselling offered to families and residents caused higher stress and confusion for the resident's families, according to Kathie.

“Initially, the communications with the families was totally inadequate.

“They’ve now gotten into a rhythm, and we now get twice daily updates and I think they will be the first to admit that they struggled early on,” she said.

Corporate Manager of SummitCare, Michelle Sloane, told Aged Care Insite that she believed the communication offered by the facility was adequate.

“We have had trauma counselling for families and we’ve widely advertised that, and a lot of families have taken that up,” she said.

“On the whole, I have had overwhelming emails and phone calls and support for all of our families, even our suppliers and our colleagues have been supportive in the industry.”

Aged care staff and nurses are now returning from isolation to the SummitCare facility, according to Sloane, and will be vaccinated on site within the next week.

NSW Health has not been in contact with Kathie or any other members of her family during this time.

“I’m very disappointed in the federal and state government’s announcement about increasing funding to headspace and Lifeline, which are very, very important services – but what about mental health support for aged care?

“It just gets forgotten.”

Kathie is the founder of WOW, a workplace chaplaincy agency which provides first responder care to trauma survivors. She is now speaking out publicly about the need for trauma informed care in aged care services.

“There's a real need for all aged care facilities to think about communication and care and trauma, because it’s traumatic for families to not be able to see their loved ones, it’s traumatic for the loved ones," she said.

“Families are not engaged enough in a way that makes a meaningful contribution,” she said.

Over the past few weeks Kathie said she has received numerous phone calls, texts and letters from families and aged care workers expressing their frustration over a lack of crisis planning.

“One lady let me know that she made an appointment and stood in the queue for an extra two-and-a-half hours on her first vaccination," Kathie said.

“After asking to book her second one, they told her that there wasn’t enough vaccine.

“In aged care, as we know, you’re not paid adequately, the conditions aren't great, many of them are women, it’s a classic story of taking advantage of people.

“We’ve got to restore dignity into workplaces for aged care workers in order to look after our loved ones.”

Allan and Lona, made the joint decision to move into the SummitCare facility three years ago. The pair met when they were thirteen, and have been married for 65 years.

According to Kathie, they have lived fulfilling and contributive lives.

“My father has worked since he was twelve, he used to deliver the milk and bread.

“My mum was a fashion designer and they were both newsagents, when newsagents used to be the pillar of society”

They raised both Kathie and her sister in a “family of love”.

“We were both told, before feminism even started, that we could do anything we wanted and that the world was our oyster.”

Kathie said that she chose to speak out because she loves her parents, and will continue to do so until the lived experiences of families of aged care residents are integrated into the sector.

“I’m just not going to walk away from this, it’s just not okay,” she said.

“My parents have been there through raising us, helping us with our children, through divorces, loss, grief, all of those things – now it’s our turn to be there for them.”

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