Elderly residents at Australia’s worst single-site outbreak, St Basil’s Home for the Aged, were dehydrated and “starving” after the entire workforce was stood down last year, a court has heard.
The Coroners Court of Victoria will investigate the circumstances of 50 deaths from Covid-19 at the aged care home in July and August last year, with a pre-inquest hearing held on Wednesday.
The first case at the 150-bed Fawkner facility was a staff member who tested positive on July 8, counsel assisting the coroner Peter Rozen QC told the court.
Before the outbreak families and residents were happy with the care provided by St Basil’s, which is owned by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia.
But the aged care home and the federal government had a “misplaced confidence” in its ability to handle the pandemic, Rozen said.
They declined help from surge workforce provider Aspen until it was too late to provide a smooth handover, he said.
When Aspen did bring in a workforce to entirely replace the St Basil’s staff, who were ordered to isolate, they had “little to no experience” in aged care and didn’t know how to perform basic tasks like showering residents.
Aspen workers were traumatised and a dozen refused to show up for work, the court heard.
By the time the evacuation of residents to hospitals began on July 24, the elderly patients were malnourished, dehydrated, in poor general health and had pressure sores, Rozen said.
A hospital nurse told him of the condition of one resident: “When I checked her I observed a pressure sore. I hadn’t seen an injury like that in 20 years. It hadn’t been dressed; it looked nasty. You were able to see into the wound, and see the tendon.”
Another frontline worker told him “we were really struggling to feed residents”, with concerns about residents “starving to death”, Rozen said.
He said a “particularly egregious omission” was that authorities did not arrange for interpreters for the replacement workforce, even though the majority of residents spoke Greek.
The hearing began with a reading of the names of the 50 St Basil’s residents who died during the outbreak, before coroner John Cain spoke to the family members of residents who died.
“I know that many of you wanted to be here this morning, but unfortunately the Chief Health Officer’s orders have prevented that from occurring,” he said.
“The circumstances of the deaths of your loved ones, in the midst of a pandemic, with hard lockdown, stay-at-home orders, curfews, restrictions on your access to see your loved ones and then no access at all – it’s hard to imagine a more difficult and distressing situation.”
The inquest will examine the response of authorities: St Basil’s management; the federal government, which is responsible for aged care; and the Victorian government, which was managing the state’s response to the pandemic.
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