News Coronavirus Private beds not considered for St Basil’s
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Private beds not considered for St Basil’s

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Victoria has reported another 40,127 COVID-19 cases and 21 deaths, with virus hospitalisations nearing 1000.
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Evacuating residents of a Melbourne aged-care home hit by COVID-19 to private hospitals was never seriously considered despite hundreds of beds being available, an inquest has heard.

Outbreak managers replaced the entire staff at St Basil’s Home for the Aged with an emergency workforce on July 22 last year, during Melbourne’s second wave of the virus.

Within hours of the handover, inexperienced nursing staff were struggling to care for the mostly Greek-speaking residents, who had already missed meals and medicine.

The inquest into the deaths of 45 St Basil’s residents from COVID, and another five residents who likely died of neglect, has been told the outbreak management team never seriously explored the option of evacuating residents to private hospital care.

This was despite warnings from senior doctors the afternoon before the handover that replacing regular staff was a “shocking idea”, and the plan would turn out to be “a disaster”.

The inquest heard that by the night of July 22, Victorian health authorities had found 115 private hospital beds that could be used for COVID-positive patients and a further 499 for COVID-negative residents, and these could be staffed within 24 hours.

On Friday, the pleas from senior doctors were put to Victorian health department executive Jackie Kearney.

She insisted that the Commonwealth was responsible for staffing the home’s surge workforce, and she could not recall discussing whether any other options might need to be considered.

“Reflecting on workforce discussions more recently … it was often difficult to identify whether a workforce was in hand until the rosters were absolutely settled,” she testified.

Ms Kearney gave evidence that as she received various reports of the deteriorating situation at St Basil’s she had a sense of anxiety and frustration, and complained to superiors that there was no clear authority on who to report problems to or how they should be managed.

One email left her in tears, as she tried to weigh up the “least worst option” for the neglected residents.

By July 23, Ms Kearney had become personally involved in the last-minute scramble to find sufficient staff, emailing a call-out to find three registered nurses to fill shifts for that night.

Emails sent that day by Commonwealth health department COVID liaison officer Kim Wilcox showed federal authorities were open to using private hospital beds.

“Good to go as a principle – but not necessarily for St Basil’s … unless we still think it is needed,” Mr Wilcox wrote.

Within days of the handover, 40 of the 117 St Basil’s residents were hospitalised anyway.

On July 24, the Commonwealth directed that 40 residents at the home be transferred, because the burden on emergency nursing staff was too great.

Counsel assisting has previously told the coroner that this decision and its execution also happened in a uncoordinated fashion, and key St Basil’s staff were left out.

The hearing continues before Victorian state coroner John Cain.

-AAP