When Elizabeth Lane had a 30-minute visitation with her mother at Newmarch House on Friday afternoon, social-distancing conditions were rigorous.
The pair were separated by a 2-metres distance, two layers of metal fencing and face masks that made talking difficult but which they were not allowed to remove.
“It did very much smack of prison,” Ms Lane says, wryly.
But with such stringent visiting restrictions, she is raising questions over how coronavirus has managed to surge through the home.
“If we have to have that kind of distance and Mum is negative, how is that being kept safe within the home with the movement [of staff and residents] they’ve got,” she said. “It baffles me.”
She said her mother, who was bed-bound, was wheeled through the Lawson wing — one of the worst-hit locations in the home — into the courtyard for Friday’s visit.
Elsewhere, she said, some COVID-19 positive patients were being walked and exercised to keep down fluid build-up on their lungs.
“You can understand, if you’re one of those families, you want the best done, but at the same time, there’s a lot of movement through the home,” Ms Lane said.
On Sunday morning the home’s operator, Anglicare Sydney, confirmed the 14th death at the facility, which has 63 cases of COVID-19.
Ms Lane’s mother, Rose Davies, has severe dementia and is under palliative care.
She remains negative for COVID-19 — for now.
“Mum’s a sitting duck at the moment,” she says.
“It just seems to be a game of Russian roulette for the negative patients at the moment because we’re still getting new cases all the time.”
On Saturday, two new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed among two staff members.
“Some of their staff members are still getting positive testing and they’re supposed to be wearing the PPE gear, so how effective is that?” she says.
“There’s a general feeling with a lot of us [families] that it is simply a matter of time until we get that phone call.”
Yesterday, NSW Health officials admitted there had been issues with maintaining infection control.
Two senior infection-control nurses were deployed to the home this week to look at protocols.
‘It feels like tokenism’
“There have been some elements where consistent application of practice has not occurred,” NSW Chief Medical Officer Kerry Chant said on Saturday.
“We’re looking at secondary cases and we’ve clearly seen transmission that, on the surface, looks like there’s been breaches of infection control, particularly among the staff.”
Ms Lane is unable to take her mother our of the home due to her high needs, and as part of her care plan there is the ruling of no intervention or hospitalisation if her condition worsens.
She was not sure if there was any alternative to her mother’s accommodation given the circumstances.
“This situation is so fluid, our options for caring and end of life for our parents and family members should be more fluid as well.”
She said there is nobody to speak to directly at the home for updates or to raise questions with.
Elsewhere, phone handsets issued to residents were not all working, she said.
“It feels a bit like tokenism because these are gestures that look like they’re doing everything they can, but if that was the case, surely they’d be getting in touch with us more directly,” she said.
She wants a direct meeting with the home’s bosses where families of residents can voice their concerns directly.
She wants to know why the negative cases have not been moved out.
“Do we just wait until every resident of the home is positive? It’s just crazy.”
Newmarch House said on Sunday it was in discussions with residents and families over alternative accommodation options for COVID-19 negative residents.
“Of course this is possible, provided there is a good understanding of the risks and precautionary measures that that this would involve — for the resident and their families,” Anglicare Sydney said in a statement.
“Families of residents who have questions about this are encouraged to contact OPAN (Older Persons Advocacy Network).”