Coroners Court to hold month-long inquest into deaths at St Basil’s Fawkner

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Aspects of the treatment of aged care residents and details of a year-long investigation into St Basil’s Fawkner were laid bare for the first time in the Coroners Court on Wednesday, The Age has reported.

This comes as the court prepares to hold a month-long inquest into the deaths from September.

During Wednesday’s hearing, the names of 50 St Basil’s Homes for the Aged residents who died during the outbreak in July and August last year – 45 from COVID-19 – were read out.

“As devastating as these numbers are, they don’t tell the whole story,” Peter Rozen, counsel assisting the coroner, said.

READ MORE: ‘We want answers’ – Families of St Basils Fawkner residents unite as COVID outbreak grows.

“Evidence collected by the court … suggests certain features of the home, its management and the way the outbreak was addressed by external agencies that combined for the tragic outcome that materialised.”

According to The Age, Mr Rozen said St Basil’s manager Vicky Kos and St Basil’s chairman Kon Kontis had declined to take part in investigations and would need to be compelled to give evidence at the inquest.

In early July last year, an employee at St Basil’s Fawkner tested positive for the virus before it spread throughout the facility to a further 93 staff and to 94 residents.

On Wednesday, State Coroner John Cain heard that the staff member returned to work for a further two shifts while awaiting her results following confusion over isolation protocol and company policies.

According to the federal government’s aged care infection control policy, Mr Rozen said, if any outbreaks occurred homes must notify the federal Health Department, which would then implement a case manager and standby replacement staff.

READ MORE: St Basil’s face threat of legal action as Victoria announces 7 new deaths linked to aged care.

But according to The Age, Mr Rozen said investigators had found that when Ms Kos learnt a staff member had become infected, she allegedly failed to notify the department, instead calling the coronavirus hotline.

On July 20, 2020, records showed that when doctors were notified of the idea of standing down the entire St Basil’s Fawkner workforce and bringing in replacement staff, they warned of a potential “disaster.”

The following day, after staff were sent home following a direction from the state’s Chief Health Officer, health authorities said the facility descended into total disarray, with residents left malnourished and dehydrated and others left lying on the floor, The Age reports.

“Many died during the ensuing week from COVID-19,” Mr Rozen said.

He said the basic needs “of the many highly dependent residents were neglected to a point that a number presented at hospital dehydrated, malnourished, suffering from serious pressure sores and in very poor general health, in addition to being COVID-19 positive.”

The coroner said he planned to examine what policies and procedures were in place during the outbreak, what was followed, the qualifications of staff and how residents were treated in the 10 days after staff were removed.

Source: The Age.

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