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A woman who wrote to a Victorian aged care home, imploring for masks to be made mandatory for staff in the weeks before her father contracted Covid-19 and died, says she believes deaths would have been prevented if masks were made compulsory in the sector earlier.
On 13 July, the federal government announced aged care staff who work in residential facilities or provide home care support would be required to wear masks in lockdown zones. On 23 July, the Victorian government made masks mandatory for residents in metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell shire. And by 3 August, they were mandated for the entire state.
But Guardian Australia has heard from families who say they implored aged care homes to introduce masks sooner based on growing case numbers and the toll the virus was having on aged care overseas.
By that time Victoria and metropolitan Melbourne were already in lockdown, but neither state or federal government health advice directed staff working in aged care to wear masks.
Amanda Miha said she held no ill will towards the staff at the BlueCross aged care home in Autumdale, where her father died on 24 August after contracting Covid. She said they were all working under difficult circumstances and were only following state and federal government advice, which she believed should have been updated earlier in Victoria’s second wave.
In emails seen by Guardian Australia, Miha wrote to the BlueCross manager on 9 July and asked: “Can someone please tell me if PPE [personal protective equipment] or face masks will be worn by staff during the lockdown or at what point they will be applied?”
Miha said she sent the email after visiting her father and observing that residents and staff were gathering together and no one was wearing masks. “I thought to myself: they’re sitting ducks,” Miha told Guardian Australia.
In response to Miha’s email, the acting residence manager wrote: “As per the current guideline, we do not need to wear PPE for asymptomatic residents. We are monitoring our residents routinely and have supplies available to use if required.”
Miha also had a phone conversation with a manager at the home. “He was really lovely but he said he could only follow government advice,” she said. On 10 July, Miha emailed again to say she had considered the comments from the home carefully but that she and her family “wholeheartedly believe that staff not wearing masks, while in close proximity to residents and other staff, is putting residents at risk”.
“Especially as the number of cases amongst health workers grow,” Miha wrote. “And that [deputy chief medical officer Dr Nick Coatsworth] announced that wearing a mask is recommended for situations where distancing is difficult.”
In response, the acting residence manager wrote: “In our previous conversation, I shared with you that BlueCross is actively working with health department to maintain adequate infection control. However, I understand your concern and it is important to me.”
When a case emerged at the home on 6 August, Miha asked the home why the more protective N95 masks were not being used by staff. Again, she was told those masks had not yet been mandated in aged care. A directive on N95 masks in aged care did not come into effect until 20 August.
“I feel like staff were always chasing their tails,” Miha said. “These staff haven’t been through a pandemic before, and they’re relying on government guidance, like any big workplace where you have a structure and you take guidance from the top. You trust it, you know your life is on the line, and you trust the guidance you get from above.”
Guardian Australia has contacted BlueCross for comment.
Miha said she had set up a screen in her father’s room that allowed her to log in and talk to her father any time, and that when she called him on 13 August he was in bed, which she thought was unusual.
“He’s bright, he’s active, he’s funny, he’s not the bedridden type,” she said. When Miha rang the home the next day to express concern that her father was fatigued, she was told he was still responding to his name and nothing was wrong. On 16 August, he tested positive for the virus. He died on 24 August.
“I think he was positive for at least three days before he got his test result,” Miha said. “I would call my dad in those three days over video and I would see carers come in with surgical masks and I would see them touch their masks and then touch him and I just thought: this feels so risky. I remember they were changing his bed and I heard my dad cough and I thought ‘They’re screwed’ because I suspected by then dad was positive.”
Three staff members tested positive for the virus on the day her father got his result.
“As the numbers kept rising amongst staff, I was and will forever be haunted by the question: did the staff give it to him? Did he give it to staff? Did staff give it to other residents?” she said.
“My dad shouldn’t have died. He was so happy.”
On Monday Guardian Australia revealed that more than four out of every 10 Victorian aged-care deaths due to Covid-19 occurred across just 10 facilities. There is no specific requirement for aged providers to publicly release their staffing levels so that the public can gauge how well equipped a home is to care for their loved ones.
It prompted the federal opposition spokesperson for aged care, Julie Collins, to call on the government to be “more transparent about older Australians who have tragically passed away from Covid-19 in aged care homes”.
“It’s time to end the secrecy and be honest with Australians about which aged care homes have been impacted by Covid-19, and how many cases and deaths have occurred at each facility,” she said.
“The Department of Health has previously tried to defend this secrecy because of ‘reputational issues’ relating to providers with outbreaks. This isn’t good enough – the public have a right to know about the status of outbreaks of Covid-19 in aged care.”
A spokesperson for the federal Department of Health said: “Due to the impact public disclosure can have on an aged care provider, its staff and residents, the department’s preference is not to disclose further information about individual services, including the number of deaths.”
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Source: The Guardian
Keyword: ‘My dad shouldn’t have died’: daughter says her warnings to aged care home on Covid masks were brushed aside | Victoria