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‘Vicious cycle’ of staff, PPE shortages at Newmarch House: report

3 weeks ago 18

Newmarch House endured a “vicious cycle” of staff shortages and inadequate protective gear during a COVID-19 outbreak that led to the death of 19 residents, a damning report has found.

An independent review into the 65-day outbreak at the aged care facility in Sydney’s west that was commissioned by the federal health department was released on Monday.

Seventy-one cases of coronavirus among residents and staff were recorded in the outbreak, which began on April 11 and was declared over on June 15.

“Until they were rectified, staff and PPE shortages and the presence of COVID-19-positive residents in different zones of the home undoubtedly contributed to infection prevention and control breaches and ongoing transmission of COVID-19,” the report authors, Professor Lyn Gilbert and Adjunct Professor Alan Lilly, found.

Relatives were left in the dark about their loved ones because of poor communication, leadership was felt to be “invisible” and managers reported conflicting advice from government agencies.

The review found one of the biggest challenges was in providing enough skilled staff to provide personalised care to residents.

The workforce of nurses and carers was severely depleted early on in the outbreak, as many staff members were close contacts of confirmed cases and had to self-isolate.

The situation was worsened by initial confusion about the correct use of PPE when caring for COVID-19-free residents, leading to more staff having to quarantine.

Most remaining staff continued to provide care but many were fearful of entering the workplace, leading to late-minute cancellations and absenteeism.

The report found increasing numbers of COVID-19-positive residents in the home were a continued source of infection to residents and staff because of imperfect infection prevention and control practices.

“Throughout April 2020, COVID-19 cases among residents and staff continued to increase, fuelling a vicious cycle of staff and PPE shortages, suboptimal infection prevention and control practice, infection source control and the resulting increase in workload and COVID-19 transmission,” it said.

At the end of the outbreak, 37 residents and 34 staff tested positive and 19 residents died, with 17 deaths directly attributed to COVID-19.

Medical and clinical care was delivered mainly by the Hospital in the Home program, but there were “significant impediments” to implementing it given there weren’t enough staff aware of the residents’ care needs.

The problems led to an external management team from Baptist Care being appointed on April 23 by the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission.

Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck said the lessons learned from the outbreaks were being implemented to improve management of future outbreaks.

Opposition aged care spokeswoman Julie Collins said history had repeated itself across multiple Victorian aged care homes, and the issues identified in the report were not fixed by the Federal Government in time.

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