Date published: 
11 August 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

SABRA LANE:

While the number of COVID cases in Victoria appears to be dropping, the fight is far from over. Yesterday was the pandemics deadliest day in Australia, there are more than 1700 active cases relating to aged cared facilities. The Aged Care Royal Commission started examining the response to COVID and has heard federal agencies failed to prepare adequately for it - Inquiry's heard lessons from the deaths in New South Wales homes weren't learned.

Australia's Chief Nursing Officer is Alison McMillan; she also heads the newly established Victorian Aged Care Response Centre. Alison McMillan, thank you. It was the deadliest day so far of the pandemic yesterday; has the peak passed in Australia?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Sabra, I think it's too early to call but we're seeing the measures in Victoria certainly appear to be having an impact, but I think that, as you- we all know now, we can't make any particular predictions yet. It's encouraging to see the numbers flattening, but I think we need to wait a little longer before we can say that.

SABRA LANE:

A Parliamentary Inquiry has heard that the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioners Agency didn't pass on information to the Federal Health Department about COVID at St Basil's for four days. It's been described as a catastrophic delay, and the Prime Minister says he's worried about a communications breakdown. Have communications improved?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

I think that communications have improved enormously, Sabra. I, like many others, have been recently working in Victoria in the Aged Care Response Centre where staff from the Commission are part of that team, working daily now with all of those facilities to protect the most vulnerable. So, I think that there are positive changes to how we communicate with the Commission.

SABRA LANE:

The Aged Care Response Centre sent out a note to all aged care homes last Friday; asking for homes to advise your office immediately of new cases. Is this in response to that communication breakdown?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

I think it's a reinforcement of the importance of getting that information early. And so, it was just to make sure that everyone was clear about what they need- they were required to do. It wasn't new information; it was just a reinforcement of that communication.

SABRA LANE:

You visited St Basil's twice during the week when the Commonwealth took over. AM has reported how families, a nurse, and doctor say that residents were neglected, and not helped to have food and water, or were left in wet incontinence pads. Did you see evidence of that?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

I didn't, Sabra, but I am, I am aware of those very concerning accusations of poor care in that facility. I have to confess it was a very difficult time, when we found that all of the staff had been deemed as close contacts, to find sufficient workforce for such a large facility quickly did prove to be difficult and there were limitations on the resources we could provide. But, no one is happy to hear that level of concern and neglect of those most vulnerable in a facility such as that.

SABRA LANE:

How did you not see that? Did you check on patients yourself?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

No. No, I didn't, Sabra. I was there to support the leadership team; to go into an area those areas where there were positive patients would have meant that I would have been excluded from doing my role both in the State Control Centre in Melbourne and also in the Response Centre.

SABRA LANE:

Why did the new carers not feed people, or attend to hygiene and toileting needs? This is pretty basic care work. Was it inexperience? Or was it fear of getting close to potential COVID-19 cases?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Sabra, there is now quite an investigation similar to that which was done at Newmarch by colleagues of mine, so I will leave it to that. I don't know this is [indistinct]…

SABRA LANE:

[Interrupts] Have you been curious though yourself to find out why?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

I imagine there is - and I do certainly hear it from nurses across the country, and from patient care attendants - of their concern for their own wellbeing and health when dealing with COVID positive residents or patients. We've seen an enormous number of health care workers infected in Victoria, which I think is a concern for everyone in the care profession.

SABRA LANE:

The Aged Care Royal Commission Council assisting was pretty scathing yesterday; indicating that lessons hadn't been learned from Dorothy Henderson and the Newmarch House deaths in April, and that operators had anticipated it- if COVID had hit their premises they'd lose 30 to 40 per cent of staff when the reality was they lost 100 per cent of their workforce and that this information wasn't passed on to the entire sector soon enough. Are homes now working on that assumption? That possibly they could lose all their staff if COVID hits?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

I think that they would. I mean it's certainly the- all of the work that we continue to do in sharing information and lessons learned with the sector is continuing on a fort- on twice weekly basis. I think though, to contingency to lose your entire workforce is probably something that one wouldn't have imagined, but now that that's happened everyone is looking to how they would cope in that situation. But it is very difficult to find that volume of replacement staff very quickly, particularly where it's a facility that had some particular needs.

SABRA LANE:

As you say, you've sourced extra staff from interstate and using Defence Force personnel. How big a problem is it to ensure a ready supply of replacement staff? Given the high rates of infection in the aged care workforce?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

It's very difficult, Sabra. The support that's being provided by the hospitals in Victoria particularly, and certainly I think also happened with the Newmarch facility, are critical to being able to continue to staff these facilities. Care staff need to be trained, they're not- there is a, generally a readily available workforce but when you're losing so many through either positive cases or close contacts it does prove to be extremely difficult. And I think we're very grateful for everyone that's been so flexible in coming to assist those most vulnerable in this situation.

SABRA LANE:

Alison McMillan, thanks for talking to AM.

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Thank you, Sabra.

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