The surge nursing workforce brought into St. Basil’s struggled to identify residents and quit due to fear of losing their professional registration, the Victorian coroner’s court has heard.
Nurse Angela Cox volunteered to lead the agency staff sent to St. Basil’s after 117 of its workforce were marked as close contacts. By this time there were at least 50 positive cases of COVID-19 linked to the Melbourne aged care home.
Cox said that new staff were not given sufficient information to determine resident needs and were unable to access the facility’s computer system.
“The conditions at St. Basil's were far worse than anything I had contemplated,” she said.
“On one occasion, the documentation that we had access to was so inadequate I was unable to properly identify a resident who died.”
Cox claimed that the facility’s director of nursing, Vicky Kos, told surge staff not to ask questions about clinical issues and to only ask her non-clinical questions once per day.
Over 12 hours into the first handover, Cox said that she received a text message from a senior nurse telling her that he would not return the next morning.
The man cited “utter exhaustion” as well as fears for his accreditation.
Cox confirmed that around half of the surge workers had refused to come in for a second shift.
Kitchen staff employed to cook for residents were also completely unaware of any dietary requirements and served food that was “wholly inadequate” for sustenance, according to Cox.
She told the coroner that the cooks had to be told how to properly portion food and couldn’t “serve up one calamari ring and a couple of vegetables”.
Top nurse gives evidence
The country’s chief nurse was grilled over her decision to declare St. Basil’s safe after she visited on the day staff were furloughed.
Alison McMillan, the Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer, spent four hours observing the handover process and reported to health officials that there was a “good ratio” of nurses and care assistants.
McMillan did not speak to care staff, tour the facility or count the number of surge workers who had turned up that morning, the court heard.
“Would you think it appropriate, now knowing what you do, to at least walk around the facility and have a look and see some of the residents?” the state coroner asked McMillan on Tuesday.
“With the benefit of hindsight, absolutely,” she replied.
Peter Rozen, council assisting to the coroner, told McMillian that he had concluded the Commonwealth was responsible for St. Basil’s from the day the surge workers arrived till the facility was shutdown.
McMillan said that it was the public health unit's responsibility to ensure that St. Basil’s residents were safe after the furlough.
“There is nothing within my role, as prescribed in my job description, that makes me responsible for the operations of a residential aged care facility,” she said.
The coronial inquest into the deaths of 50 St. Basil’s residents will continue for another two weeks.Do you have an idea for a story?
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