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‘I want answers’: family of Melbourne aged care Covid victims call for coronial inquest into their deaths

A woman whose parents both died after being infected with Covid-19 has called for a coronial inquest into their deaths, saying she wants more transparency around how the virus got into their aged care home and what was done to prepare for the virus, to prevent the tragedy from happening again.

Liz Beardon said staff from the Menarock Rosehill facility in the Melbourne suburb of Highett never called to tell her that her mother, Sybil Beardon, had tested positive for Covid-19. She called them, after seeing an update on Saturday 1 August from the department of health and human services that one infection had been identified in a resident. Beardon told Guardian Australia “the lack of information to families was astounding”.

On 2 August, Beardon called Rosehill again for information, and was told the home by then had three cases. When she called again one day later, on the morning of Monday 3 August, a staff member told her 40 cases had been identified in the home. After being questioned by Beardon, the staff member told her that Sybil had tested positive.

“My first reaction was ‘Why hasn’t anybody called and told me or my brother?’” Beardon told Guardian Australia. “I immediately said I wanted either both of them taken out of the home and taken to hospital, or at the very least, for my father to be separated from my mother so that he would not be infected too because they shared a room at the home. I really thought my mother should be in hospital.”

By this point, the Department of Health and Human Services’ media releases had stopped detailing the number of cases in Rosehill, only reporting the homes in Victoria with the most cases as the virus ravaged the sector. But Beardon said she also wasn’t receiving updates from the home itself about case number and deaths, unless she asked.

“When people are desperate to know if their loved ones are safe and well, who do you turn to for that information if you can’t get it from the facility?” she said.

On the evening of 3 August her father, John Beardon, was transferred to Cabrini Hospital in Malvern. Beardon spoke to her mother again later that night and said she sounded “hoarse”. But by 8 August, Beardon said her mother had deteriorated significantly. She again pushed for her mother to go to hospital, and by 10 August Sybil was also transferred to Cabrini Hospital.

“The next couple of days she rallied, and seemed to stabilise,” Beardon said. “Then slowly, she deteriorated.” Sybil was kept separated from John, who at this point had not tested positive for the virus.

Sybil Beardon and John Beardon’s wedding.
Sybil Beardon and John Beardon’s wedding.

John returned a positive test on 14 August. His condition by then had rapidly deteriorated. Beardon and her brother were told to visit to say goodbye.

“The staff asked us if we would like them to reconfigure the beds and put them together in the same room,” Beardon said. “We said yes. We thought this was a kind and beautiful thing for the hospital staff to do for us, and my mother had been so worried about my father. We were then able to visit both of them together.”

On 17 August, John died at about 6am. On 18 August, Sybil died, at about 8.30pm.

“It shattered our hearts, but it was lovely they were together again for a day or so until my father died,” Beardon said. “The hospital staff were wonderful and kind.”

But Beardon has less praise for Menarock Rosehill. Beardon was stunned to receive an email from the home one week after her parents died welcoming residents back. The CEO, Fiona van den Berg, wrote in the email to families: “I am very excited to let you know we accepted back some of our residents to Rosehill today who had been Covid-cleared by the department of health … we will be in contact with you individually to let you know when this transfer back to the facility will occur.”

In the meantime, the home also continued to charge Beardon and her brother for the care of their parents for two weeks after their deaths. Guardian Australia has seen the receipts of these charges. Beardon’s brother wrote to the home: “It appears that Menarock are charging for the time that they were hospitalised … and for some of the time after in which they had both passed away.” The Beardon’s were reimbursed more than $2,000 in fees on 28 August, receipts show, only after they pointed out the error.

But Beardon said she had concerns long before her parents became unwell. When she visited her parents at Rosehill on 8 July, she was surprised to see that no staff were wearing masks. At this time, Department of Health and Human Services advice did not state that all aged care home staff should be wearing masks. But Beardon knew another Menarock facility, in Essendon, was facing cases of the virus. Emails seen by Guardian Australia show Beardon subsequently emailed Rosehill on 10 July to find out whether staff were working between the Essendon and Rosehill facilities, and to ask about masks and infection control.

“I have some serious and urgent concerns and questions that I would like you to address please,” Beardon wrote. She said that staff working between homes was a “risk” and “the clear priority” for the home must be “the welfare and lives of my parents and the other residents”. While visitors to the home were by this point required to undergo temperature checks, Beardon raised concerns about asymptomatic cases.

“Are staff required to be tested for Covid-19 on a regular basis?” she wrote. “Can you explain your policy and reasoning on this please?”

Beardon did not receive a response until one week later on 17 July, and only after she followed up again asking for a response. The residential manager of the home reiterated that staff were undergoing temperature checks twice each shift; said that all staff were wearing a mask at all times, and face shields when in close contact with residents; and outlined cleaning and hygiene procedures regularly undertaken at the home.

Beardon’s question about whether staff worked between Menarock homes went unanswered. She was told that while Covid-19 testing kits had been ordered for Rosehill staff, “it is not mandatory and they are allowed to refuse”, the email said.

On 19 August, on the same day she received a condolence email from the home following the death of her parents, she and other families at the home also received an email from Van den Berg expressing disappointment that some people had been sharing information.

“Whilst everyone has the freedom to speak to the media, I feel disappointed that the information I have been sharing with you in regards to what is occurring within their home,” the email said. She added the home “will now need to take a new direction and the updated information you receive will be in relation to your relative only”.

“As, I am sure you will all agree, each resident has the right to privacy and unfortunately they will not necessarily be able to achieve this when they may potentially hear or see the media talking about their home of Rosehill on the news whilst in hospital or when they return back to Rosehill,” Van den Berg wrote.

Van den Berg did not respond to questions from Guardian Australia.

Beardon said she never breached the privacy of another resident and just wanted transparency and answers about the death of her parents and how the virus spread through the home. She said she had requested an inquest from the coroner, and had been told it was under consideration. Calibrini Hospital also confirmed to Beardon the coroner had been in touch.

“Once a doctor signs a death certificate as Covid-19 that’s it, the death is not then referred to the coroner,” Beardon said. “I want an inquest, I want to know how the virus got into the home and if it can be prevented again. I know for many grieving families thinking about how to request an inquest might be the last thing on their minds.

“But even though it’s difficult, it’s helpful for me to do this, because I want answers. And my parents would want me to do this.”

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Read the original article at The Guardian

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