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Newmarch House became one of two major clusters in NSW aged care facilities in 2020. Picture: Adam Yip/NewsCorp.

Inquest into largest NSW aged care Covid-19 outbreak

A Sydney aged care home where 19 residents died from COVID-19 turned into a place of “chaos and dysfunctionality” due to lack of staffing and poor communication, an inquest has heard.

Anglicare’s Newmarch House saw a 65-day coronavirus outbreak between April and June 2020, where 37 out of 97 residents and 19 staff members became infected. 

This week, the NSW coroner began a three-week investigation to examine the facility’s handling of what was then the largest aged care COVID-19 outbreak in the state. 

On Monday, the court heard that preparations on behalf of Anglicare were “insufficient” and led to a decision to treat unwell residents inside of the facility rather than transfer them to hospital.

Counsel assisting Simon Buchen SC said 87 per cent of staff were forced to isolate during the outbreak, leaving the facility dependent on agency workers.

This led to residents being left unattended or at times without food, receiving visits from doctors not wearing PPE, and left in isolation for five weeks.

On Wednesday, the husband of Margaret Sullivan, who died aged 71 on May 11 2020 after contracting Covid, told the court management refused to let him visit his wife who had dementia and needed to be fed. 

"The management seemed to be lacking – lacking care and empathy, and good business practice,” said Robert Sullivan

“The communication between March 23rd and the day she died was appallingly bad, appallingly bad.”

This is the sixth review into the Newmarch House outbreak since June 2020.

In the coming weeks, Deakin University epidemiologist Professor Catherine Bennett and Kirby Institute epidemiologist Professor Raina MacIntyre are due to give details about how the outbreak spread.

Aged & Community Care Providers Association interim chief executive Paul Sadler told Aged Care Insite the sector had "many lessons to learn" from the tragedy at Newmarch.

"It's really important to remember that back in 2020, there were no vaccinations, there were no antiviral medications available, so we really didn't have any preventional treatment mechanisms for the disease," he said.

"I would commend Anglicare who gave up their time to inform other aged care providers, what the lessons were and what things went wrong."

The inquest continues.

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