Families of residents at a nursing home at the centre of one of the nation’s worst coronavirus outbreaks fear their elderly relatives remain in a game of “Russian roulette”.
Newmarch House in Sydney has confirmed a 14th person has died after contracting COVID-19 at the home.
And authorities admit they still don’t know how the virus is spreading there.
Ann Fahey died in hospital on Saturday afternoon – just a day after her family went public with concerns about Anglicare Sydney’s handling of coronavirus outbreak at their Penrith facility.
They are among the families asking why healthy residents were not moved out of the home or better protected from infected patients.
Ms Fahey, 76, initially tested negative for the virus but by late last week she had become gravely ill.
“Anyone who tested negative, it would have been ideal if they could all come out weeks ago,” her granddaughter Nikki Fahey told Seven News.
In a separate statement, the granddaughter had written: “We just want this nightmare to end.”
It’s extremely frustrating and heartbreaking, the fact that these stats are increasing, yet we have no choice or power to pull Nan out of the house is hard.’’
Her comments, which came just days before her grandmother’s death, highlight the pain and frustration of families worried about the spread of the virus in Newmarch.
It also shows how quickly the situation can change: Updating friends on April 28, the Fahey family reported Ms Fahey had tested negative and was in “good spirits”.
On Sunday, another family joined the chorus of relatives concerned about the plight of nursing home residents.
Elizabeth Lane’s mother, Rose Davies, is in palliative care at Newmarch.
“Mum’s a sitting duck at the moment,” Ms Lane told the ABC.
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.
“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.”
She said when she visited her mother on Friday the pair wore face masks and was separated by two metres.
But she said her mother had been wheeled through the Lawson wing – one of the worst-hit locations – into the courtyard for the visit.
Some COVID-19 positive patients were being walked and exercised to keep down fluid build-up on their lungs, Ms Lane said.
“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,” she said.
All staff to be tested daily
Every staff member at the western Sydney nursing home will soon be tested daily for coronavirus, the NSW government has announced.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard on Sunday announced the measure will be implemented in an attempt to manage the Newmarch outbreak.
“It seems to me, in talking with an infectious disease specialist, that’s a really good step we can take,” he said.
“Hopefully that will make a difference.”
On Saturday, authorities confirmed another two new cases of COVID-19 in NSW were Newmarch staff members.
By Sunday there were 63 infections linked to the nursing home including 26 staff members and 37 residents since the outbreak on April 11.
Investigations are under way to find out how the staff members recently became infected, with questions around whether the transmission is happening within the facility or outside.
NSW authorities have said in recent days there appeared to have been breaches of infection control among staff.
Specialists are being sent in to the nursing home to review its procedures.
Anglicare Sydney chief executive Grant Millard conceded on Saturday “there have been some failings” at Newmarch, and he pointed out the use of personal protective equipment was foreign to many people.
As well as the possibility of PPE failings, the government raised the possibility staff movements could have been a factor in the outbreak.
Staff from other agencies have had to be brought in to work at Newmarch after a large number of Anglicare staff had to isolate when the outbreak first emerged.
“It has been extremely challenging for Anglicare. They largely stepped up and worked with state government and the federal government to try to ensure they get staff from other sources,” Mr Hazzard said.
“They’ve had to have, I think, nine separate agencies providing health staff and staff generally into the facility and that presents its own challenges.”
Plans to separate negative patients
Newmarch is in talks with residents who do not have coronavirus and their families about alternative accommodation options.
“Of course this is possible, provided there is a good understanding of the risks and precautionary measures that this would involve – for the resident and their families,” Anglicare said in a statement on Sunday.
NSW Health chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant said Anglicare has kept one part of the facility as a “clean wing” where residents who do not have the virus are living.
She also insisted that residents who are COVID-19 free have the option to leave the facility, but it had to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
“If they wanted to go home to their family and they were a contact of a case, we would have to make sure that everybody was fully understanding of what isolation meant and you had monitoring in place for those 14 days,” she said.
NSW Labor leader Jodi McKay said the situation at Newmarch House was a public health crisis.
She called on the Berejiklian government to give residents who are not infected the option of being moved to the public hospital system.