Fury over Newmarch COVID failures

·4-min read

Nurses were lax in enforcing isolation rules and left concerned families in the dark during a COVID-19 outbreak at Newmarch House early in the pandemic, a coroner has heard.

Nineteen residents died at the western Sydney aged care home in April and May 2020 amidst what, at the time, was one of the biggest outbreaks of the pandemic.

As an inquest into the deaths continued on Tuesday, Mark Fahey said an inability to get information from within the centre led him to speak with the media about how residents like his mother Ann Fahey had been locked inside a "rampant sick building".

"They might as well have lit a fire inside the building and closed all the windows and said we'll see how they go," he told the Lidcombe Coroners Court.

Mr Fahey said he did not blame the staff who were dropping like flies along with the residents, but pointed fingers at management for bungling their handling of the outbreak.

His mother died at Nepean Hospital on May 2, 2020. She was 76 years old and had tested positive on April 30.

Mr Fahey said she was transferred to the hospital only by using back pain caused by a recent fall as a tool to ferry her out. Newmarch refused to transfer her because of COVID, the court heard.

Glenn Billinghurst said he felt coerced into agreeing that his mother Blanche Billinghurst stay within Newmarch instead of being transferred out after a phone call with Dr Mohammed Kakkat.

"I went along with the doctor's recommendation thinking that was in the best interests of mum at that point and I now regret I didn't insist she went to hospital," he said.

Ms Billinghurst died on April 28. She was 89 and had tested positive for COVID on April 14.

Earlier on Tuesday, Mary Van Put said her father Barry Jehan had taken a call seated outside his room at a time when the home was meant to be in lockdown.

Mr Jehan died on April 28, 2020 at the age of 93, five days after he tested positive. He was one of four residents who died that day.

"Is he allowed out of the room now?" Ms Van Put's sister asked.

"Not really but no one's here," a nurse replied.

Ms Van Put said this raised concerns about the risk of infection to her father who, at the time, had tested negative to COVID-19. She felt angry because he was not getting the best care available, she said.

Ms Van Put tried unsuccessfully to get her father out of the facility but received conflicting information about the public health orders in place or orders that could be imposed by Newmarch itself.

During the outbreak, the Anglicare-run home implemented the Hospital in the Home program in which residents were treated onsite rather than being transferred to nearby hospitals.

Ms Van Put said that her brother-in-law, a paramedic, had told her facilities such as Newmarch did not necessarily have machines like ventilators and X-ray machines required for an outbreak, or staff trained to use these devices.

Virginia Clarke also gave evidence about the final weeks of her father, Ron Farrell, at Newmarch. Mr Farrell died on April 19 aged 94. He was the second resident to die with the virus.

Early in the outbreak, Ms Clarke said she struggled to find out what was going on from those at the home.

A phone call with her father revealed that meals had not been delivered to his room. He also complained that his oxygen cylinder had not been refilled.

Ms Clarke gave emotional testimony, saying she expected her father to be transferred to a hospital if his condition deteriorated suddenly.

She criticised the public emphasis on underlying health issues of residents who had died at the time, saying COVID-19 had taken away time that they still had left.

"Without COVID, they could have lived a bit longer, long enough to see family again, to see their new great grandchildren ... see their next birthday, not to have died alone," she said in a statement.

The inquest continues on Wednesday.

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