Disturbing evidence about what went on at inside a Melbourne aged care home has been aired at the inquest into the deaths of 51 residents.
The inquest into the deaths of 45 aged care residents at a virus-plagued facility in Melbourne’s north last year has heard horrific evidence about what went on behind closed doors.
Coronavirus swept through St Basil’s Home for the Aged in Fawkner last July while families were unable to get word from inside.
What little contact they did have with carers was reassuring. They were told everything was fine.
But day one of the Coronial Inquest into the St Basil’s outbreak has heard otherwise.
Bins were overflowing with medical waste. Residents infected with Covid-19 were mingling with those who had tested negative.
The scenes were so dire that a family member who managed to look through the window to her mother’s room while she lay there dying compared residents to “neglected” children from orphanages in Romania.
Christine Golding, who was first to give evidence on Monday, told the Today Show her mum was unrecognisable.
“It reminded me of those children in the orphanages in Romania that were neglected,” she said.
“They had a hollow look in their eyes. That’s what I saw. Mum was hopeless and helpless and couldn’t talk.
“Can you imagine wanting to know how your mum was and having to sneak around the back?
“There were people there who saw their parents and they were extremely distressed because their parent had gone from being mobile to almost catatonic in bed.”
Other family members have described finding out that their loved one was dead in the most inhumane way.
Jayne, whose father Boro Petkovic, 82, died at St Basil’s, told news.com.au she tried for 58 hours to contact the facility after the entire staff cohort was replaced.
Then the phone rang and a woman Jayne had never met relayed news she says will “torment” her forever.
“I’m just calling to let you know your father’s passed away,” the woman on the other end of the phone told Jayne.
“I lost it,” Jayne says. “I was screaming. I asked her, ‘Why didn’t you call?’”
The response, Jayne says, was “cold and heartless”.
“He was fine this morning. He was fine this afternoon. Now he’s passed away,” she was told.
That was followed by a barrage of questions that left Jayne feeling insulted and humiliated.
“Haven’t you organised anything?” Jayne was asked. “Not even after last week?”
Then this: “Were you close?”
The lack of clear and accurate communication was a recurring theme.
The Age newspaper reports that one resident aged care resident Theodoula Andreou fell ill with Covid-19 before being transferred from St Basil’s to Glenferrie Hospital.
The family was told by a Health Department call centre worker that “Theodoula was in her room and doing well” but a doctor at Glenferrie Hospital had a different message.
He said the 85-year-old barely had a pulse and was dehydrated. She died a short time later.
Victorian State Coroner Judge John Cain will hear from 60 witnesses and sift through 7000 pages of evidence during the five-week inquest.
He will attempt to learn how such a tragedy unfolded and how so much went wrong.
The first case at the 150-bed facility was a staff member who tested positive on July 8, 2020.
Before the outbreak, families and residents were happy with the care provided by St Basil’s, which is owned by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia.
But the aged care home and the federal government declined help from surge workforce provider Aspen as the outbreak grew.
When Aspen did bring in a workforce to entirely replace the St Basil’s staff, who were ordered to isolate, they had little to no experience in aged care and didn’t know how to perform basic tasks like showering residents.
Aspen workers were traumatised and a dozen refused to show up for work, the court heard.