Aged-care workers fear the movement of nurses and disability workers into facilities could further the risk of coronavirus to staff and the elderly if proper checks and tests are not in place to stop the spread.
It comes as a professor who delivered a scathing assessment of Victoria’s “paper thin” health system is due to front a coronavirus inquiry, and more evidence emerges out of hotel quarantine.
Failures in the hotel quarantine scheme are believed to be responsible for the Victoria’s second wave of COVID-19, which has killed hundreds of people and led to the nation’s toughest lockdown.
Infectious diseases expert Lindsay Grayson is among three witnesses set to appear at the inquiry’s first public hearing on Monday.
“It’s time to discuss the reality – namely, that the Victorian Health Department is one of the worst-funded and dysfunctionally organised in the nation,” Professor Grayson wrote in a blistering comment piece in The Age in July.
Meanwhile, the ABC’s investigations program Four Corners is set to reveal videos of security guards sleeping on the job inside Melbourne hotels where returned travellers were quarantined.
The program has obtained information showing frontline doctors warned the Victorian Government about infection dangers inside the state’s hotel quarantine program more than a month before guards were infected with COVID-19.
But, the ABC reports, the Department of Health and Human Services never responded to the concerns put forward by the Australian Medical Association.
- Read more about the ABC’s investigation here
Health staff falling ill
Premier Daniel Andrews says details should be released early this week to answer fundamental questions about the spread of the coronavirus to, and potentially by, health staff.
Latest figures show 1164 health workers have the virus.
“We know how health workers are positive but where did they get it from?” Mr Andrews said.
“Did they get it from work, did they get it in the community?”
He said the analysis should also provide some breakdown on which workers were most at risk and why.
It comes as more public sector nurses and carers are being deployed across Victorian nursing homes and the number of deaths in the age care sector continues to rise.
Victoria reported another 16 deaths from the virus on Sunday, taking the state’s toll to 309 and the national toll to 396.
Eleven were linked to nursing homes and there were now 2075 active infections in aged care.
Health officials were on Sunday called in to Yarraville, with an AUSMAT specialist team being sent in to stem an outbreak at the Doutta Galla home.
Seven residents have died in recent weeks, the facility has confirmed, with nearly 60 cases diagnosed in staff and residents in recent weeks.
Concerns relief staff bring risks
Dianne, who wished to remain anonymous, works in an aged-care home in Melbourne where one resident has died from COVID-19.
During night shift on Thursday, Dianne said she was shocked when a fill-in registered nurse admitted she had not been tested for the coronavirus once since the pandemic began.
“She also told us she’d come from working in a nursing home that had quite a lot of COVID cases and we were horrified,” she told The New Daily.
“I thought, how could you not have been tested? How is that even possible?
“My concern is that I still believe spread is happening because there is too much cross-sectioning of staff across facilities, especially in the aged-care sector.”
I know someone working in aged care (kitchen staff) who was offered hazard pay to do extra shifts at another facility. Just last week. The ban on working in multiple facilities is not being taken seriously by all managements.
— Katia (@AbsolutelyKatia) August 15, 2020
Dianne said she wanted the federal and state governments to take more responsibility for the disaster.
“They’ve absolutely dropped the ball,” she said.
“There has got to be action.”
Aged-care workers ‘copping it’
Melissa, an aged-care worker from East Gippsland who wished to remain anonymous, said she felt aged-care workers had been “copping it” in the media over the coronavirus outbreaks in nursing homes.
“It will be the carers and nurses that cop the backlash when management really are the ones that need looking at,” she told The New Daily.
She said her co-workers had been doing their best to cheer up the residents, who she sees as “family”.
“You would do anything to keep them safe,” Melissa said.
I’m not in it for the money – I’m there to care.’’
“I do 70 hours a fortnight, plus I have three kids and a house to run.”
She added her workplace was doing “everything possible” to ensure the safety of the residents, including extra PPE training.
“I’m in regional Vic…masks and face shields are worn as well, even though we have no cases,” she said.
Blame game continues
Aged care is solely a federal government responsibility, with the Department of Health funding providers as well as administering regulation of the sector.
However, as has been pointed out by Prime Minister Scott Morrison in recent weeks, state governments are responsible for public health measures, such as responding at a ground level to the pandemic itself.
ABC Radio journalist Raf Epstein detailed claims on the ABC’s Insiders on Sunday morning that a 94-year-old woman had not been washed or changed in three days, and had gone hours without food.
Just minutes later, federal Labor MP Tim Watts confirmed he was aware of the “scary” situation in his electorate.
I’ve been in contact with management and the Federal Minister over the past week to try to help address these issues.
It’s been scary.
— Tim Watts MP (@TimWattsMP) August 15, 2020
Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck confirmed specialist medical teams had entered the Doutta Galla facility after reports 19 residents tested positive on Saturday.
He said residents testing negative had been moved from the facility to prevent further virus spread.
Doutta Galla chief executive Vanda Iaconese said seven residents had died and another 22 have been transferred to other medical facilities.
“The situation continues to be difficult for our residents and families, particularly when families are unable to be close in contact with their loved ones,” she said.
“The management of our facility is, however, under control to the best possible extent.”
When asked about the stories from Doutta Galla, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the situation was being rectified.
“Those reports are older reports and not reflective of the current situation,” he said at a Sunday press conference, saying the facility had “more staff available today”.
“They regard themselves as being well staffed.”
Another 72 cases have been confirmed at the Japara Goonawarra home in Sunbury, according to Mr Andrews.
On Insiders, Labor’s shadow government services minister Bill Shorten said the federal government still wasn’t doing enough to deal with the aged-care virus situation.
“Aged care, I think, is a disaster,” Mr Shorten said.
He said the government should pursue suggestions from the aged care royal commission of a national aged care co-ordinating authority to help manage responses from a federal level.
“Why are we second guessing it? Why do we leave old people, elderly people and vulnerable people, with a second-class system?” Mr Shorten asked, calling aged care “the dirty secret of Australian politics”.
Mr Shorten, while stopping short of explicitly saying aged-care homes should not be for-profit businesses, said “we need to put people before profit”, citing low wages for workers, many of whom work at multiple centres to make ends meet.
“I’m saying if you can make a profit, that’s good. But the problem is here, that we’re seeing profit being made, but people not getting looked after,” he said.