Home | Aged Care Royal Commission | St Basil’s inquest: infection breaches, rushed handover after workers furloughed
Picture: Andrew Henshaw

St Basil’s inquest: infection breaches, rushed handover after workers furloughed

Infection breaches and poor communication prevailed after St Basil’s aged care staff were furloughed following a positive Covid case during Melbourne’s second wave.

The facility suffered the worst outbreak that swept through Victoria’s nursing homes last year, with 50 residents dying in July and August.

Victorian chief health officer Brett Sutton stood down staff at the facility in July after deeming them close contacts and they were replaced by a workforce sourced by the Commonwealth health department.

But St Basil’s cook and kitchen hand Connie Apidopoulos told an inquest into the deaths the handover was “rushed” and she could foresee “so many mistakes”.

Apidopoulos told the hearing she turned up to work only to be told the government would be taking over and she’d need to do a handover.

She said she explained the preparations to ensure residents’ meals were not confused but the girl she was handing over to – who was on her first day on the job – seemed overwhelmed and there was no time to do it properly.

“We were being rushed. The whole day was so stressful. I could see so many mistakes that were going to happen,” she said.

“I even went through infection control with this girl and she seemed lost.”

She later recalled many of the new workers weren’t doing things correctly but she was told to step away.

“Everyone simply said they couldn’t change anything because the government was taking over,” she said.

At the same time, the residents were getting upset, asking for their food and medicine.

When she returned to the facility three weeks later, food was rotting in the fridge.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was shocked as nothing in the kitchen pantry and fridge had been touched.”

llija Avramovski, a personal care assistant working at St Basil’s dementia unit, said there was poor communication about the outbreak from the managers.

He said staff were told on July 13 that a worker there had tested positive and all staff and residents were to be tested.

But he had worked alongside a close contact of the first positive case four days earlier and said he should have been told then.

“If everyone had been told about the first positive Covid test when the managers knew, and staff did not also work in other areas of St Basil’s, then I think we could have had less infection at St Basil’s,” he said.

Avramovski, who still has problems breathing after catching the virus, said staff also should have been wearing masks and PPE sooner to protect themselves.

Staff were also working across the facility, despite not being meant to, due to staff shortages.

“There was not good communication about Covid outbreak from St Basil’s office staff,” he said.

Ana Pokric, personal care assistant in the dementia unit, said she was tested on July 15 at work but nobody told her she had to self isolate afterwards.

Even after the first positive case at the facility, there was a general lack of hygiene and wearing of PPE, and staff didn’t always communicate issues in handover notes, she said.

She said professional training on using PPE and general infection control did not happen until September.

Dr Naveen Tenneti, a health director at the Victorian department of families, fairness and housing, was pressed on whether he and his colleagues had failed to learn lessons from the earlier Covid outbreak at Sydney’s Newmarch House aged care facility, where 19 residents died after an outbreak between April and June last year.

“I‘d say to the best of my recollection that there was limited information available at that time around precisely the learnings or failings that occurred from that outbreak,” he said.

However, he said national guidelines were updated in July and assumed they were updated in light of the Newmarch tragedy.

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