A 12th resident of the Sydney aged-care home at the centre of a coronavirus cluster has died, just hours the home’s chief executive warned residents and families to brace for more fatalities.
The death of the resident from Anglicare’s Newmarch House, in western Sydney, was confirmed late on Friday afternoon.
It means five people have died in 24 hours at the home, along with a six resident who died just outside that period. Newmarch House, in Caddens, near Penrith, still has 55 confirmed cases – including 33 among its remaining 81 residents.
The other 22 cases are among staff. Two employees were confirmed with the virus on Wednesday after having worked shifts at the home – one in full protective equipment.
“We were warned on the weekend to expect a number of very difficult days this week with residents passing,” chief executive Grant Millard said on Wednesday.
“We do anticipate more deaths.”
The escalating cluster at Newmarch began after a staff member worked six shifts at the home, despite having mild respiratory symptoms.
Anglicare learned of the outbreak at Newmarch House on April 11. Residents have been isolating in their homes within the complex since then.
Anglicare said on Tuesday that, according to the “best advice available”, it would still be some weeks before the home was clear of coronavirus.
Distressed families of residents have written to Anglicare to complain their calls have not been returned, details about loved ones are not being shared often enough and residents have reported inadequate care.
Louise Payne, whose mother has tested positive for COVID-19, told the ABC that residents were in shock and families had been left in the dark.
“We’ve got residents that are passing away and their families haven’t been allowed to see them,” she said.
“It’s over five weeks since we have seen them, they have seen us.”
She said calls to the home often went unanswered and some residents, including her mother, could not use a mobile phone.
“They’re either not well enough or they can’t do that anymore. They’re old, they’re frail,” she said.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to repay the nurses for what they’re doing for our parents. But we are just not getting that information through from Anglicare.”
Another woman said she feared for the safety of her 93-year-old mother also has the coronavirus.
“They are dropping like flies. I’m terrified, absolutely terrified my mum will be a statistic in there,” she told 9News.
Mr Millard said Newmarch House was running almost as a hospital to try to manage the virus outbreak. There are 20 registered nurses, 25 carers, 11 cleaners and a GP working daily at the nursing home.
“[It’s] really running as a pseudo hospital at the moment,” he said.
Anglicare was working to connect isolated residents with family members, he said, and registered nurses were calling residents’ designated family representatives daily.
Other employees are helping residents who cannot use mobile phones to connect with family. Mr Millard said it was “sincerely regrettable” those calls had not been frequent enough.
“You need to appreciate that some people you are bringing in for these services are not clinicians, they’re not used to wearing personal protective equipment,” he told ABC News.
“It’s a very dangerous place for people to be working.”
The facility is looking into window therapy in which residents can communicate with family members through windows.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Wednesday said it was “distressing” that communication between family members of residents and operators Anglicare had been lax.
She said it was a “huge issue” given the fear and distress felt by family members and the home’s residents.
“We say to the operators of that aged-care home, you need to lift your game in communicating to loved ones,” Ms Berejiklian said.
“It’s not acceptable to keep people in the dark. Just put yourself in the shoes of those people – it’s horrific to be fearful about firstly, potentially losing a loved one, but then not knowing what’s going on and not being able to offer that care.”
Infectious disease clinicians are assessing the situation at Newmarch House daily. Staff who helped manage a coronavirus outbreak at Dorothy Henderson Lodge aged care home in Macquarie Park have also been called in to help.
NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant said a report on the Newmarch House outbreak would be prepared.
Federal Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck said a teleconference call of medical experts would be held on Wednesday to discuss further action.