Aged-care facilities report the maximum number of COVID-19 related deaths, what went wrong?

Summary

  • Increasing outbreak at aged care centres and high death rates called for an inquiry by the Royal Commission to look at coronavirus (COVID-19) situation in aged care.
  • The Royal Commission highlighted that the Morrison Government did not have a response plan to contain the outbreak of coronavirus in aged care.
  • Staff shortage is also a critical situation that the home care centres are facing.

Globally, there has been increased fatalities because of COVID-19 infection. Immunity is one of the primary factors that explains why the virus badly hit the elderly, with the majority of victims falling above age of 60.

Across the world, it has been observed that aged care facilities are becoming an epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak. Thousands of elderly residents residing in healthcare facilities and nursing homes are dying after contracting the disease. High death rates of elderly have prompted countries like United States, Canada, and European countries such as Italy, Spain, and France to launch inquiries to identify the reasons behind the high fatality rate of elderlies at aged care facilities.

Royal Commission lashes out revealing no COVID-19 response plan from Government

The Australian Government established a Royal Commission for the aged care sector in September 2018. The Royal Commission which at present has the responsibility to oversee the quality of residential and in-home aged care is expected to provide a final report by 26 February 2021. The commission is also overseeing the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation in aged care.

According to a ROYAL commission, the Government failed to act quickly and provide any clear guidelines to contain the outbreak of coronavirus in aged care. According to a media report, Australia has one of the highest rates of elderlies succumbing to the virus. As many as 220 aged care residents died because of COVID-19 by 21 August, representing ~70% of total deaths registered in Australia.

In response to the Royal Commission, the federal minister for aged care, Richard Colbeck, states that since January 2020, the Government had been continuously strengthening its response to COVID-19 in residential aged care.

At present, the continued outbreak of COVID-19 disease in residential nursing homes amid the second wave of infections in Victoria has raised questions about the ability of Morrison government handling the crisis.

According to Peter Rozen QC of Senior Counsel Assisting Royal Commission, health department data reveals that COVID-19 has been detected in over 1,000 residents with 160 death between 8 July and 9 August.

Mr Rozen further said that masks became obligatory for aged care staff in the middle of July despite increased community transmission identified in Victoria in the middle of June. Professor Mary-Louise McLaws from University of NSW (UNSW) was astonished over masks not being compulsory for aged care facilities earlier when masks became a requirement in Victoria since the first week of July.

Multiple COVID-19 affected facilities told the commission that mixed information had been given to aged care providers over PPE with no pre-condition procedures been followed regarding "hospital in the home" concept.

Mr Rozen inquired over the reason for implementing the "hospital in the home" system in an aged care facility when the normal conditions were not met regarding the system. There was a lack of a written agreement with training provided to staff in the course of the system implementation and not before the system was implemented.

Situation worsens

Despite such outcries in the second week of August, Australia kept reporting outbreaks at various aged care facilities with less healthcare staff showing up for work.

Melbourne's Epping Gardens Aged Care home faced acute staffing problem when the COVID-19 outbreak was at its epic in the centre. Epping Gardens Aged Care home met one of Australia's most massive aged care outbreaks with 162 residents and staff infected.

According to documents, urgent calls were made repeatedly for more staff at Epping Gardens as COVID-19 spread. The company received its COVID-19 test results with a six-day delay post the first case was detected. Due to a lack of healthcare staff, executive team members worked as healthcare staff to fill shifts.

On 17 August, The Japara Elanora Aged Care Home in Victoria recorded a loss of 25 lives in 24 hrs. According to a Japara spokeswoman, the nursing home was closed down immediately post a resident was detected with the virus on 2 August. Since then, 21 more residents, along with 12 staff, were tested positive for COVID-19.

As per the latest figures, Senator Colbeck revealed that aged care death toll hit 335. At present, there are 126 aged care homes in Victoria having active coronavirus cases. However, Australian Prime Minister, Mr Morrison was in denial regarding Government not having a formalised and specific plan designed for the aged care sector for the pandemic.

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