Join Hafta-Ichi to Research the article “Three people tasked with Australia’s aged care Covid response during early stages of pandemic | Aged care”
The branch responsible for the federal government’s aged care Covid-19 response was left with just three staff members at times in the pandemic’s early stages, internal documents show.
The Coalition has faced persistent criticism for failing to prepare for Covid-19 in aged care, including from the aged care royal commission, which found its actions were “insufficient to ensure preparedness” in the sector.
Staffing documents obtained by the Guardian through freedom of information show that the health department’s aged care Covid-19 implementation branch – responsible for the commonwealth’s response in aged care – was given minimal resources in early March 2020.
At that point, the virus was causing widespread death across Europe and the first wave was beginning to take hold in Australia, including in Dorothy Henderson Lodge, a Sydney aged care facility.
The health department provided the Guardian with a compilation of its “records of staffing in March 2020” for the aged care Covid-19 implementation branch.
The records show it was given just three staff members – a senior executive service member, an executive level employee, and a junior public servant, understood to be an executive assistant.
The department insists that the branch was “in the process of scaling up resources” at the time.
The Guardian understands the team was given four more staff in the last week of March – after the first wave had worsened considerably and the borders were shut – and more again in mid-2020.
The department also says the branch was being supported by other areas of government at the time, including its New South Wales state office, the National Incident Room, and the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission.
But experts say the staffing records again show the lack of preparation from the government for Covid-19 in aged care.
Prof Joseph Ibrahim, a leading geriatric medicine specialist at Monash University, said the level of planning was “quite clearly” insufficient.
Ibrahim gave evidence to the aged care royal commission last year that the government’s failure to act had led to the premature deaths of hundreds of residents.
“To me, this just really reaffirms the evidence that I gave at the royal commission that they were underprepared,” Ibrahim said. “I think this is evidence that they didn’t have any real resources dedicated to it.”
The revelation comes as the government comes under renewed pressure about its handling of the risk of Covid in aged care due to the current Melbourne outbreak.
Nine staff and residents at Arcare aged care facility in Maidstone have tested positive for Covid.
The government has been criticised for delays vaccinating aged care staff and failing to restrict employees from working across multiple facilities.
About 685 deaths have occurred in Australia’s aged care facilities due to Covid-19, accounting for 75% of all Covid-19 deaths.
A report in the Lancet in October said Australia had “one of the highest rates worldwide of deaths in residential aged care as a percentage of total deaths”.
The first major outbreaks in aged care in Australia occurred in March, at Sydney’s Dorothy Henderson Lodge, and April, at Newmarch House. Both outbreaks resulted in deaths.
Victoria has since recorded 1,991 cases and 655 deaths in aged care.
In a special report in October, the aged care royal commission found there was “confused and inconsistent messaging” for the sector about Covid-19.
“All too often, providers, care recipients and their families, and health workers did not have an answer to the critical question: who is in charge?” the report found.
“At a time of crisis, such as this pandemic, clear leadership, direction and lines of communication are essential.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Three people tasked with Australia’s aged care Covid response during early stages of pandemic | Aged care