The daughter of two St Basil’s residents has painted a harrowing picture of the conditions that her parents lived in before they died from COVID-19.
Branka Lyons told the coroners court that her father, Jakov Pucar, 90, was a “breathing skeleton” after not being fed by staff.
At the time, Jakov suffered from Parkinson's disease and was unable to swallow whole food.
“I don’t believe my dad had anything to eat the whole time they were there,” she told the inquest.
“Mum would be able to eat some things that were served, but dad could not because there was no pureed food for him.”
Lyons gave evidence on the seventh day of the coronial inquiry into the deaths of 50 residents at the Melbourne aged care home.
She recalled speaking with her mother, Slavka, who told her that during the outbreak she had found a resident from the dementia ward in her bed and had overheard staff talking about knowingly coming into work with COVID-19.
“That was evidence that proper measures weren’t taken to protect the residents from the spread,” said Lyons.
“I don’t believe there were any restrictions to keep residents in their rooms prior to the handover.”
Lyons also told the court that a nurse had administered morphine to her father against her wishes.
In a recorded phone call, personal care worker Robert McDougall told Lyons that he had found piles of uneaten food trays in people's rooms and heard residents “begging” staff for food and medication.
“It’s the worst I have ever seen in my life,” he told her.
"I lost a man in one wing yesterday and it was completely avoidable."
Lyons gave a tearful plea to the coroner in her closing statement. She asked the court to hold St Basil's and the government to account on behalf of the residents and families.
“Not one of them has had the grace to acknowledge fault or apologise for the suffering they have caused,” she said.
“This should never happen again, our elderly deserve better than this.”
A 'chaotic state of affairs'
The inquiry has given new insight into the multi-million dollar contract between the Commonwealth and a private nursing provider who sent junior staff into St Basils’.
Aspen Medical National was paid $45 million to deploy staff to the nursing home after all staff were furloughed following a positive case.
The deal was part of an agreement to provide “world class” nursing teams into aged care homes suffering COVID-19 outbreaks.
“The Commonwealth was not only looking for Aspen to provide staff, but to provide staff that were capable,” Peter Rozen, told the coroner on Tuesday.
Rozen told the court that the majority of the Aspen medical staff sent into St Basil’s had only been registered in 2020.
The coroner heard that Aspen had arranged for just 11 nurses to visit the infected site, with most having less than two years of practical experience.
When they arrived, they were met with a "chaotic state of affairs", according to Rozen.
“It is unsurprising that these very junior professionals were overwhelmed by the experience and that several refused to return to work after a few days,” Rozen said.
“Sadly, a number also contracted COVID-19 at St Basil’s.”
On Wednesday, Aspen national clinical manager for COVID-19 Kristi Payton spoke of the disarray staff had witnessed on the first day they came in.
Emails between Payton and her superiors highlighted “serious concerns”, which included residents being left in bed and unshowered till 11am.
“The efforts on the ground were quite remarkable in terms of what people were trying to do but there was an avalanche of issues,” said Payton.
On Friday, the court is expected to hear from Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton.
The inquest will continue until December 15th.Do you have an idea for a story?
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