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‘Chaos’ at Victoria’s Epping Gardens: how privatised aged care has failed during the coronavirus pandemic

Melbourne aged care home Epping Gardens, where 85 residents and 35 staff have tested positive for Covid-19, is in “chaos”, a relative of one of the infected residents has told Guardian Australia.

“Nobody has the answer, but she can’t go back to Epping Gardens,” said Carla Gangi, whose 89-year-old grandmother Concetta Mineo was hospitalised on Tuesday.

Guardian Australia has learned that an additional 11 Epping Gardens residents were to be sent to hospital on Thursday, in addition to two who were hospitalised on Wednesday due to coronavirus.

The chief executive of operator Heritage Care, Greg Reeve, denied allegations the company had resisted the takeover of the home by health authorities and did not respond to questions about Mineo and residents who were sent to hospital.

Company documents show that Heritage Care is half-owned by the founder of aged care giant Estia, Peter Arvanitis, and his wife, Areti Arvanitis.

The other half is owned by Heritage Care’s founder and managing director, Tony Antonopoulos, and his family.

There is no suggestion any of Heritage Care’s owners have done anything wrong.

The private aged care sector has found itself at the centre of Victoria’s second-wave coronavirus outbreak, with the state’s premier, Daniel Andrews, saying it was associated with 10 of 13 deaths recorded on Wednesday.

Federal or state health workers have now taken control of Epping Gardens and three other aged care facilities battling coronavirus outbreaks: St Basil’s in Fawkner, Kirkbrae in Kilsyth and Outlook Gardens in Dandenong North.

There were at least 73 further cases linked to Victoria’s aged care crisis on Thursday, with 58 staff and 15 residents testing positive for Covid-19.

The stricken St Basil’s added another 22 cases, reaching a total of 111 infections, while the Estia Aged Care facility in Heidelberg recorded 11 cases to make up a total of 67.

Kirkbrae has recorded 81 cases, with three further infections recorded on Thursday.

A kitchen worker at Gary Smorgon House in Caulfield has also been diagnosed with Covid-19, the home’s operator, Jewish Care, said.

Gangi said she learned her grandmother, Mineo, was diagnosed with Covid-19 on Wednesday, four weeks after she had last been able to communicate with her.

Mineo had initially returned a negative coronavirus result after being rushed to nearby Northern Hospital following a fall on 20 July.

She was returned back to the facility – something Gangi said she only learned after constant calls to Epping Gardens workers who, she said, have been “dripping” information to her and other residents in recent weeks.

Gangi said she was surprised to receive a call on Tuesday night from Royal Melbourne Hospital. Her grandmother had been transferred there after falling twice that day – in the morning she fell in the bathroom, and in the afternoon, she fell off her bed.

Carla Gangi and her 89-year-old grandmother Concetta Mineo, an Epping Gardens resident.
‘We trusted these people to look after our family members,’ says Carla Gangi, whose grandmother has tested negative to Covid-19 but was taken to hospital when she was found to have fallen twice at Epping Gardens aged care home.

She was also suffering from dehydration and had a urinary infection.

“She was found face down and moaning in the bathroom, but my grandmother can’t walk by herself. So how did she get into the bathroom? And how many hours had she been in there before they found her?” Gangi said.

The following morning, Wednesday, the hospital called Gangi to tell her that Mineo had tested positive to a Covid-19 test on being admitted.

While “terribly concerned” for her grandmother, Gangi is more comfortable with her being in hospital than staying in Epping Gardens, largely because she believes she is getting more attention.

Despite not being able to visit her, on Thursday morning, hospital nurses organised a Facetime with Mineo’s family – something Gangi said Epping Gardens had not been able to organise since the facility was closed off to visitors when cases in Victoria escalated.

When they saw Mineo for the first time this month on their phone screen, they were “extremely confronted” by the sight of her “completely black and blue face” that had developed after her fall.

“I don’t even think she knows what year it is. She was totally delirious because she’s getting so confused and agitated,” Gangi said.

“She has moved from the complete chaos of Epping to another hospital.”

Gangi said she was shocked to hear reports that Epping Gardens’ management had refused help from Austin Health which was sent in to assist during the crisis.

Guardian Australia has been told that relations between Heritage Care and Austin Health reached breaking point on Wednesday night after management attempted to take control of clinical care.

Sources said the federal department of health ordered control of Epping Gardens be handed to Austin Health after the service threatened to walk out of the facility if management continued to direct care.

“You need to ask for help, you need to let them help you, because clearly you’re not doing your job,” Gangi said.

“We trusted these people to look after our family members.”

Asked about the allegations, Reeve said: “Put simply I refute what has been stated in its entirety.”

“More importantly we are all working together, including the Austin resulting in some very positive traction for our residents and staff,” he said.

On Thursday, Andrews said Epping Gardens was “a very, very challenging environment”.

“I do not think there is much gained by me running commentary on what may or may not have happened last night between management and health,” the premier said.

Only 33 residents remained at Epping Gardens, of whom 11 had Covid-19, Heritage Care said in a circular to residents, families and staff.

The Victorian health minister, Jenny Mikakos, said that across the aged care system her department had already transferred more than 200 people to hospital.

“If there is a need for residents to be transferred to hospital, because they need to clinical care, or if there are operators who are struggling to manage residents in a safe environment, then we will not hesitate to ensure that those residents get moved to a hospital environment,” she said.

There have been just five cases of coronavirus in the public system, compared to almost 900 in the private sector, raising questions about the for-profit industry’s preparedness for the virus outbreak.

Only three of the 440 aged care residents with coronavirus this month have recovered from the disease, aged care royal commission chair Tony Pagone said.

The crisis has also inflamed tensions between state health authorities and the federal department of health, which has responsibility for the aged care sector, over how to respond to the soaring number of cases.

Families have complained to state authorities that they cannot make contact with their elderly relatives.

In turn, state health workers have complained that difficulties getting contact information for relatives from private operators have forced them to escalate their complaints to the federal health minister, Greg Hunt, or the federal aged care minister, Richard Colbeck.

In May, when the Senate select committee on Covid-19 was examining the outbreak at Sydney’s Newmarch House aged care facility – where 19 residents died – Amy Laffan, the acting first assistant secretary in the Department of Health’s aged care reform and compliance division, spoke of how the government needed to be more forceful with operators who initially resisted intervention.

Laffan said Newmarch House’s operator Anglicare had waited six days after first being offered the assistance of private operator Aspen Medical, on 14 April, before allowing their clinicians to enter the facility.

Speaking about how aged care operators respond to government health interventions at their facilities, Laffan said “they think that they’re going to be all right”.

“We have learned to now counsel them aggressively at the start,” she said.

Do you know more? luke.henriques-gomes@theguardian.com

Read the original article at The Guardian

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