Coronavirus has severely exposed flaws within Australia’s aged care systems, such as inadequate staff training and a lack of pandemic planning.

Counsel assisting the commission, Peter Rozen QC, made a statement on Monday which has described the global pandemic as the greatest challenge facing the sector.
“It is hardly surprising that the aged care sector has struggled to respond to COVID-19,” he said.

Rozen said that evidence reveals neither the Commonwealth Department of Health nor the aged care regulator developed a COVID-19 sector-specific plan. This was despite federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt, saying in late July aged care was “immensely prepared”, he added.

Peter Rozen has indicated that the commission received 364 submissions since April, which makes reference to inadequate staff infection control, training and lack of access to personal protective equipment (PPE).

There has been confusion about virus guidelines – which was another problem, followed by inconsistent messaging from providers and state and federal governments.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has starkly exposed all of the flaws of the aged care sector,” Rozen said.  The response of two Sydney homes, Newmarch House and Dorothy Henderson Lodge, which were both reported to have had deadly outbreaks and as a result, will be closely examined.  Rozen said there was a lack of high-level infection control expertise at Newmarch House. In effect, 17 residents died, until at least a fortnight into the outbreak.  He said there were problems at both homes sourcing PPE (personal protective equipment).  There was also “vigorous disagreement” between federal and NSW officials early-on in the outbreak about whether virus-positive residents at Newmarch House should be hospitalised.

A total of 37 positive residents, two were transferred to hospital. One of those died, with the other 16 fatalities occurring at the home.  Rozen said meeting records showed NSW Health in April had preferred not to move residents into hospital to avoid setting “a precedent” around transfers.

The boss of the facility’s operator at Anglicare Sydney, Grant Millard, is expected to give sufficient evidence that Anglicare had little or no say about whether residents with the virus should be hospitalised.  The CEO of BaptistCare, Ross Low, which operates Dorothy Henderson Lodge, is one of among seven witnesses expected to give evidence on Monday.
Six residents at the facility died of the virus, including three people among the first four COVID-19 fatalities in the Australia.

The commission heard 168 aged care residents have died from the virus and 1000 have tested positive.
Victoria’s aged care outbreak is not part of the commission’s scope due to a lack of time and sensitivities around the state’s current situation.

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