Australia | Coroners Court Investigates

Elderly residents at St Basil’s Home for the Aged were part of Australia’s worst single-site Covid-19 outbreak. The court has heard that St Basil’s residents were dehydrated and “starving” after the home workforce was stood down.

The Coroners Court will investigate the circumstances of 50 deaths from Covid-19 at the aged care home in July and August 2020.

Counsel assisting the coroner Peter Rozen QC told the court that the first case at the 150-bed facility was a staff member who tested positive on July 8, 2020.

St Basil’s, which the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia owns, was before the Covid-19 outbreak, apparently a good facility with residents and their families happy with the service provided. But the aged care home and the federal government had a “misplaced confidence” in its ability to handle the pandemic, said Rozen.

“They declined help from surge workforce provider Aspen until it was too late to provide a smooth handover”, he said.

However, when finally brought in, the surge workforce was inexperienced in working in aged care and didn’t know how to perform basic tasks. They were overwhelmed, and many refused to show up for work.

“By the time the evacuation of residents to hospitals began on July 24, the elderly patients were malnourished, dehydrated, in poor general health, and had pressure sores”, said Rozen.

Rozen said a “particularly egregious omission” was that, though most of the residents spoke Greek, authorities did not arrange for interpreters for the replacement workforce.

Fifty St Basil residents died during the outbreak, and the hearing began with a reading of their names. Then, coroner John Cain spoke to the family members.

“I know that many of you wanted to be here this morning, but unfortunately, the Chief Health Officer’s orders have prevented that from occurring,” he said.

“The circumstances of the deaths of your loved ones, during a pandemic, with hard lockdown, stay-at-home orders, curfews, restrictions on your access to see your loved ones and then no access at all – it’s hard to imagine a more difficult and distressing situation.”

The inquest will examine a range of issues, including the response of authorities, St Basil’s management, the federal government responsible for aged care, and the Victorian government, which was managing the state’s response to the pandemic.

The matter is back in court on September 15.