A woman whose parents-in-law both died from COVID-19 contracted at a Melbourne nursing home says her family is traumatised by the way residents were neglected.
Ilias and Soula Trimbos died within a week of each other after testing positive for coronavirus while living at St Basil’s Home for the Aged in Fawkner last year.
“They died in a horrific way – neglected, scared and all alone,” Rachael Trimbos said of the 45 St Basil’s residents who died from COVID-19 during Victoria’s second wave outbreak.
“Residents weren’t given a chance —they were let down by so many people, systems and politics.”
After her mother-in-law tested positive on July 12 last year, Ms Trimbos said she was asymptomatic and doing well. She was transferred to hospital on July 24 and that’s when they found out how dire her condition was.
A doctor at Epworth Hospital described Mrs Trimbos as “one of the sickest patients” in the COVID ward.
“He made reference to the fact they don’t normally let people come and visit on the COVID ward but in extreme circumstances they make allowances, and he believed this was such a situation,” she told an inquest before State Coroner John Cain on Wednesday.
There was applause from someone in the courtroom when Epworth’s director of medical services, Dr Luis Prado, later told the inquest about allowing end of life visitors.
“Nobody dies alone at Epworth if we can stop it,” he said.
“There is a risk when they’re with their family of contracting COVID, but the emotional needs have to outweigh that infection control.”
He offered his condolences to the families of five St Basil’s residents who were treated at Epworth, including the Trimbos family.
“The staff remember your loved ones to this day — they told me this yesterday. They recall conversations with them and wanted to say they are thinking of your families,” Dr Prado said.
“For whatever it’s worth, it’s been our honour and privilege to help.”
While Mrs Trimbos was at Epworth, her family struggled to find out what was happening to her husband who was “supposedly” still testing negative.
Ms Trimbos said one day she called nine times before someone even answered the phone and attempts to get someone to bring him to his window so they could see him from outside were unsuccessful.
Staff told the family he’d been moved to hospital “for his own protection” but they were told by Glenferrie Private Hospital staff that night that transfer paperwork showed he’d tested positive, hadn’t received medication in five days and needed bathing, food and water.
A staff member told Ms Trimbos “it’s actually quite heartbreaking”.
Mrs Trimbos died on August 1 and her husband a week later.
Earlier on Wednesday nurse Angela Cox, who was brought in to lead the fresh workforce when regular staff were stood down as COVID-19 close contacts, said the handover details she was given weren’t adequate and staff struggled to identify residents.
She claimed the home’s director of nursing Vicki Kos refused to answer clinical questions and said she would only answer non-clinical questions — preferably by text or email — once a day.
Ms Cox said there were times of “desperation” at St Basil’s where she had to contact Ms Kos about clinical matters, including identifying residents.
“I did have to contact her about identifying a resident because the file didn’t represent where he was actually located in the facility and I couldn’t identify him from the photo,” she said.
The inquest is continuing.