What was Scott Morrison’s plan when he decided Australians should “live with Covid”? Did he give any thought to the impact this would have on older people living in aged care homes?
When the federal government decreed that Australians should “live with Covid”, the safety of older people living in aged care homes was once again not on the Coalition’s radar.
In yet another predictable disaster, Covid has spread like wildfire in aged care homes.
Refusing to publicly name aged care homes with Covid-19 outbreaks; secrecy around the number of deaths in specific aged care homes; information about standards of care and complaints about aged care homes considered “commercial-in-confidence”; voting against reforms that would spell out what the $13bn of taxpayers’ money given each year to aged care providers is actually spent on.
This government has a long history of being more concerned about the reputational damage of aged care providers – some of whom are multinational corporations – than looking after the interests of those living in residential aged care, most of whom are elderly and frail.
The federal government claims repeatedly that a consumer-driven, free market-based residential aged care system will provide world-class care. This is consistent with its neoliberal agenda. However, the so-called “consumers” are often frail, elderly people, many with dementia. How can they demand a high-quality service on the free market?
The irony of the move towards a free-market aged care system is that private companies continue to put out their hands for more government money – without any transparency about how they spend it. Do they spend the government subsidy on providing nursing care, meals and activities for residents or on salaries for their executive team and profits for shareholders?
To explain some background about how this weekly report came about – and why I continue to update Excel spreadsheets that summarise the data.
I began naming aged care homes during Victoria’s outbreak in 2020, when the data was “top secret”.
At a Senate inquiry hearing on August 4, 2020, Dr Brendan Murphy, secretary of the Department of Health, and Senator Richard Colbeck, the Minister for Aged Care at the time, refused to name the aged care homes with outbreaks during Victoria’s second wave. They explained that providers didn’t want to be publicly named because they were worried about “reputational damage”.
In my view, it is not the role of the Department of Health or a Minister to protect aged care homes from reputational damage. So I began preparing a weekly list of the outbreaks in Victorian aged care homes in 2020.
After a month or so weeks of updating my list (mostly from intel from members of my Aged Care Matters Facebook Group), the Department of Health released its first Weekly report on 11 September 2020. At that time, an outbreak was defined as one resident or staff testing positive for Covid.
More recently the Department has listed only the names of aged care homes with two or more Covid cases.
This data has been released every week. However, many people told me they found the reports difficult to understand. So I began presenting the data in a simple Excel spreadsheet. The spreadsheet includes the number of cases (residents and staff) and deaths (residents) in each aged care home.
With the Omicron wave, my spreadsheets have enabled people to track the outbreaks in each aged care home over time. This has been important for families who do not receive timely information from the aged care home.
It also enabled people to observe the increased number of aged care homes with outbreaks.
|Date||Number aged care homes with Covid outbreak|
On 31 December 2022 – when Omicorn was spreading like wildfire in aged care homes – the Department did not release the weekly data. No explanation was given for this failure to keep the public (including families) updated.
The weekly report recommenced on 7 January 2022.
Thanks for releasing the data – I am sure it has been a busy time with so many aged care homes with outbreaks.I note with confusion that you are now naming some home care providers in your list of aged care homes with outbreaks. Are you able to tell me why?On 24 Dec, you listed the following home care providers as active outbreaks:Integratedliving Home Care PackagesKincareSt Basil’s In Home Care
On 7 Jan, you listedCalvary Community CareCare ConnectFive good friendsAnglicare SQ South Coast Region Home CareIntegrated Living AustraliaMulticultural Aged Care Services Geelong IncAustralian Vietnamese Women’s AssociationBanyule City CouncilHume City CouncilNorthern Health Home Care Packages – Level 4Wintringham Home CareThe Australian Asian Association of WA Triple A CareYou may also be interested in correcting the entry numbers 115 and 237 in the Appendix.Also – Bupa Clemton Park is in NSW, not Victoria. Also you may want to correct the spelling.Also, curious that Wesley House (SA) had 1 resident with an active case on 24th Dec. Yet on 7 Jan, had zero (with zero resolved).
I received no reply to my email.
I no longer trust the accuracy of the data from the Department of Health. Nonetheless, I continue to update my spreadsheets because families tell me my spreadsheets are helpful.
Updating the current spreadsheet involved adding 703 additional aged care homes with outbreaks. It was a mammoth effort.
I also wrote another email to the Department.
Could you please forward this email to whoever is responsible for the weekly updates.Putting on record (again) my extreme disappointment at DoH’s decision to cut and paste the Appendix from Jan 7 into Jan 14.I appreciate you had technical issues. However no data is better than misleading data.Did you consider the families who rely on this information (due to poor communication in many aged care homes)? In my 6 years as a voluntary aged care advocate, it was the nadir.Having said that, I am pleased that you have corrected some of your earlier mistakes – On 21 Jan, there are no home care services in your list of residential aged care outbreaks. You have also listed Clemton Park (spelt correctly in 21 Jan edition) in NSW, not Victoria. Thank youThe report on 21 January has less mistakes than I have become accustomed to seeing in these weekly reports. However, you have listed Catholic Healthcare St Joseph Aged Care twice with different numbers. Does this aged care home have 3 or 8 residents tested positive?I also note with surprise that Lark Ellen Aged Care (that had 20 Covid positive residents on 7 January) is not listed. Is the outbreak resolved?Ditto Blue Cross Elly Kay in Victoria. It had 40 Covid positive residents on 7 January. Yet it is not listed in 21 Jan report. Is the outbreak resolved?I am also pleasantly surprised that Villa Maria Catholic homes O’Neill Aged Care Residence had 21 residents with Covid on 7 Jan, and zero on 21 Jan. Might be worth checking if this is correct. Also worth checking Whitlesea Lodge (21 residents with Covid on 7 Jan; zero on Jan 21).I would welcome another conversation with Cameron, if this is possible
I also used compared the data from 7 January with 21 January to identify 10 aged care homes with largest increase of residents with Covid.
|Aged care home||Residents +ve on 7 Jan||Residents +ve on 21 Jan||Resident deaths|
|Estia Health Kilbride (NSW)||0||119||4|
|Russian Relief Association of St Sergius of Radonezh (NSW)||6||113||8|
|Cardinal Stepinac Village (NSW)||16||103||10|
|Uniting Wesley Gardens Belrose (NSW)||0||88||0|
|Bossley Parkside Care Community (NSW)||50||86||7|
|Fronditha Clayton Aged Care Facility (2nd outbreak) (Vic)||0||85||5|
|Bupa Greenacre (3rd outbreak) (NSW)||44||80||5|
|Forest Lake Lodge (QLD)||0||77||7|
|Bupa Clemton Park (2nd Outbreak) (NSW)||33||52||0|
|Constitution Hill Aged Care (NSW)||22||52||2|
Is this due to: Residents not receiving a booster shot? Poor infection control? Unable to access PPE? Inadequate staffing levels/training (e.g. training in how to don and doff PPE)? Poor ventilation?
Interview on Channel 9 Today show
The federal government had no pandemic plan for aged care or quarantine. Scott Morrison not only failed to coordinate a national approach to quarantine and aged care but he and his colleagues sat on the sidelines providing unhelpful commentary. Rather than show leadership, the federal government chose to politicise the pandemic.
Australia has one of the highest rates in the world of deaths in residential aged care as a proportion of total Covid-19 deaths. A recent Senate inquiry noted that deaths in aged care homes “account for 74.6% of all deaths from Covid-19 in Australia”.
Many of these deaths could have been prevented had the federal government prepared the aged sector for the pandemic. In the months since the first outbreak in aged care, the government has indulged in semantics and repeated attempts to shift the blame.
For around one third of residents in aged care homes, this will be their last Christmas. Yet many residents will not be able to celebrate with families and loved ones, even though Australia has transitioned to Covid-normal.