Secret report flagged aged care workforce woes in April

Federal authorities were told four months ago

The report warned of problems in keeping staff, recruiting agency nurses and sending residents to hospital during the nation’s first major aged care home COVID-19 outbreak. But the report was kept confidential after it was handed to federal authorities on April 14 and was only made public in recent days after being lodged with the royal commission into aged care.

Months of inaction

Aged care in crisis

1st Dog originally published in The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/aug/19/we-are-232-days-into-the-coronavirus-and-aged-care-in-australia-is-in-a-deadly-meltdown

Secret report flagged aged care workforce woes in April

Writes David Crowe, SMH’s Chief political correspondent

Federal authorities were told four months ago aged care centres would struggle to find staff in an outbreak, with a confidential report listing the urgent lessons from the first wave of infection.

The report warned of problems in keeping staff, recruiting agency nurses and sending residents to hospital during the nation’s first major aged care home COVID-19 outbreak. But the report was kept confidential after it was handed to federal authorities on April 14 and was only made public in recent days after being lodged with the royal commission into aged care.

The report into Dorothy Henderson Lodge, the Sydney centre where six residents died from coronavirus, revealed the workforce pressures months before the same problems took authorities by surprise in Victoria.

‘‘When the first case was diagnosed, many personal carers stayed away from work and others were distressed and fearful; all were quarantined for two weeks,’’ says the report by Professor Lyn Gilbert, the director of infection control for the Western Sydney Local Health District. ‘‘Maintaining adequate numbers of agency nurses was difficult and costly.’’

Federal Health Department Secretary Brendan Murphy argued last month that authorities could not foresee the sudden withdrawal of most workers from Melbourne’s St Basil’s home because it had not happened elsewhere.

But authorities were told of the lessons from the NSW outbreaks, where an estimated 87 per cent of workers had to go into quarantine.

Professor Gilbert also conducted a review of Newmarch House but the federal government is yet to release the document. She has also been asked to conduct a review of St Basil’s.

The reviews come as Prime Minister Scott Morrison strongly denies claims made to the royal commission that he and his ministers did not develop a specific pandemic plan for aged care.

Mr Morrison told the ABC yesterday aged care was a shared responsibility because the states looked after public health.

‘‘We regulate aged care but when there is a public health pandemic, then public health, which, whether it gets into aged care, shopping centres, schools or anywhere else, then they are … matters for Victoria,’’ he said.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese said this was ‘‘passing the buck’’.

‘‘The Morrison government runs, regulates and is responsible for aged care,’’ Mr Albanese said.

The federal Health Department commissioned Professor Gilbert to review Dorothy Henderson Lodge, run by BaptistCare, and received her report in April.

The report notes the first COVID-19 case was diagnosed on March 3 in a nursing assistant and was followed by infections among two more staff and four residents within two days.