A coronial inquest into a fatal COVID-19 outbreak inside a Melbourne aged care home has heard horrific details of malpractice, neglect and devastation.
Forty-five residents died after being infected inside of the St Basil’s home for the aged last year during Victoria’s second outbreak.
The six week inquiry, which began on Monday, will investigate how the virus spread into the facility and what led to the failure to contain the outbreak.
Victorian state coroner John Cain opened Monday’s hearing by reading aloud the names of those who lost their lives.
Christine Golding, whose 84-year-old mother Efraxia was among the deceased, was the first witness to be called on.
She described her mother as a proud Greek woman who loved to cook and spend time with her family.
Golding told the hearing the neglect that her mother experienced during the outbreak was “cruel, inhumane and degrading.”
“Australians deserve to know why our aged care COVID-19 preparedness was so poor, why it spectacularly failed my mother and contributed to her premature death,” she said.
Golding said that she and other families were forced to try and storm into the facility in order to check in on their loved ones.
The coroner was then shown a confronting photograph Golding took from an outside window which showed her mother appearing withdrawn and dishevelled.
“They was a lack of information, there was a lack of transparency, it seemed there was a lack of process, lack of systems, it was chaos,” she said.
"Never in a million centuries did I ever think that would be the way I would find my mother, I would get to spend the last moments with my mother.”
Testing delays and gov coordination a "root" cause
On Tuesday’s hearing, the personal care assistant who brought the virus into St Basil’s said that she was cleared to work despite living in a high-risk area and having relatives with flu symptoms.
The woman, who can’t be identified, worked multiple shifts in the four days after she was tested.
Registered nurse and manager, Jagmeet Nagra, said that social distancing and personal protective equipment (PPE) were only brought in until after the first case was confirmed.
Peter Rozen QC, who is assisting the coroner, said that there was an eight-day delay between the first case being detected and the testing of other St Basil’s staff members.
Specialist emergency physician Dr Ian Norton said that this was the “root cause” of the outbreak.
It was also heard that the Chief Health Officer Professor Brett Sutton went against doctor’s warnings and furloughed most of the facility’s staff who were considered close contacts.
By that time, 40 residents and 19 staff had tested positive.
“There were far too few of these workers at St Basil's for them to have provided care at the level the residents deserved and the law required," said Rozen.
"They were operating within a wholly inadequate governance and management structure trying to look after over 100 frail, elderly people, many of whom were suffering from a deadly and highly infectious disease. “
"If anything, the evidence will reveal that a number of the replacement staff went above and beyond."
Over the next five weeks, the coroner’s court will continue to hear evidence from 65 witnesses.Do you have an idea for a story?
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