St Basil's boss 'laughed' at staff concern

·3-min read

Care workers at a Melbourne nursing home where 45 residents died from COVID-19 say they brought their own masks from home and were told not to wear them.

They say when staff raised concerns with St Basil's Home for the Aged's director of nursing Vicki Kos, she laughed.

Jasmina Velkoski was bringing her own mask before the outbreak among staff on July 9, 2020 because she hadn't seen any available in the home.

She first saw a single box of surgical masks for visitors at the reception desk on July 11 and said they got no personal protective equipment until July 13.

Another personal care attendant, James Mee, said there were no discussions with staff about wearing PPE and senior nurses in charge told them they didn't need to wear a mask.

An inquest into the deaths heard staff were told residents didn't understand what was happening and wearing masks was scaring them.

Ms Velkoski was declared a close contact during a shift and later tested positive. Mr Mee, concerned for the safety of himself and his family, took a leave and never returned to St Basil's.

Both said they were concerned about a lack of infection prevention controls.

Mr Mee said that in a staff meeting after the first positive case among staff on July 9, Ms Kos told them not to panic or worry.

"Staff members were quite concerned about how we were going to care for residents who had COVID or what the plan was. Vicki just laughed at staff concerns," he told the inquest on Thursday.

It wasn't just staff who had concerns.

Kathy Bourinaris, whose mother Fotini Atzarakis died after contracting COVID-19 during two weeks' respite at St Basil's, said she had concerns for her mother's safety.

It was only after she reached out to the home for updates that she learned her mother had tested positive. It's the same way she found out about a positive case among staff and positive cases among residents.

Ms Bourinaris said staff appeared to be running around with no sense of what was going on or what to do - no structure or no plan.

On visits she said staff hadn't been wearing any protective equipment - even masks. When Ms Bourinaris questioned why not, she was told "we know what we're doing".

"(I felt) these people do not know what they're doing, my mother isn't safe," she said.

Mrs Atzarakis taken to hospital on July 19. That's the last time Ms Bourinaris had a conversation with her. Her condition deteriorated quickly and she died on July 29.

In tears, Ms Bourinaris described how during their final conversation her mother revealed she was unwell and scared, before immediately turning the conversation to her family.

"My mother always said life and family was the best gift given," Ms Bourinaris said.

"Her legacy was her family. She just wanted everything for her family - even up to her last days."

The inquest before State Coroner John Cain is continuing.

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