Older people and families should not have to put up with the secrecy of the aged care sector

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 Guardian

Why did we expect Australia’s aged care to cope amid Covid when it was struggling before it?

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?

The Guardian

Aged care homes with outbreaks

The Covid outbreaks aged care homes Excel spreadsheet contains data obtained from the Department of Health’s Weekly COVID-19 outbreaks in Australian residential aged care facilities.

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
Dec-03 28
Dec-10 36
Dec-17 54
Dec-24 105
Jan-07 495
Jan-14 1,107
Jan-21 1,198

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.

In the sheet titled “7 Jan”, the entries highlighted with yellow indicate the aged care homes homes that went into lockdown because a staff member tested positive (i.e. no residents tested positive). In NSW, for example, about 15 per cent of aged care homes were in lockdown on 7 Jan because a staff member tested positive (i.e. not a resident).
The outbreaks caused by staff bringing Covid into the aged care home were preventable. They could have been avoided with all staff having a rapid antigen testing before their shift. I first wrote about using rapid antigen tests in aged care homes in The Guardian in  December 2020.
While taking a test may be inconvenient and time-consuming, it is infinitely preferable to putting residents and families through the trauma of a lockdown.
I put notes in a column of the January 7 spreadsheet to indicate the aged care homes that had a surge in case numbers. These were the aged care homes that needed to be watched (hoping they didn’t have a further surge in case numbers). However, it was not possible to track these homes because the Department did not release the names of the aged care homes with outbreaks on 14 January.
On Jan 14, the Department indicated in a footnote of the Weekly Report that there were “technical issues”. Rather than delay the release of the report until these “technical issues” were resolved, someone in the Department decided to cut and paste the Appendix from the previous report, perhaps hoping that no one would notice.
I noticed – and I was appalled! No data is better than misleading data.
With poor communication in many aged care homes, families rely on the weekly report (and my spreadsheet) for accurate information. In my 6 years of advocacy, the Department’s decision to release a report with misleading data was the nadir. It made me despair.
The decision to cut and paste the Appendix in 14 Jan’s report is yet another example of the Department of Health’s lack of transparency and accountability.
If we can’t trust the Department to release accurate information, who can we trust?
Over the past few months, I have frequently emailed a list of mistakes in the Department’s weekly report. On 9 January, I emailed:
Hi there

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 Packages
St Basil’s In Home Care
On 7 Jan, you listed
Calvary Community Care
Care Connect
Five good friends
Anglicare SQ South Coast Region Home Care
Integrated Living Australia
Multicultural Aged Care Services Geelong Inc
Australian Vietnamese Women’s Association
Banyule City Council
Hume  City Council
Northern Health Home Care Packages – Level 4
Wintringham Home Care
The Australian Asian Association of WA Triple A Care
You 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).

Regards, Sarah

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.

Hi again

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 you
The 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


We need to know the factors that contribute to some homes containing the virus while other homes have had a huge surge. For example, in past fortnight, 105 home had a surge in numbers while 71 had no change in numbers.

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?

Aged care, quarantine: open and shut cases of federal responsibility but Morrison won’t step up to the plate

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.

Article in Pearls and Irritations

No Plan PM: how government’s lack of an aged care plan cost lives

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.

Opinion piece in Michael West

Aged care residents have endured brutal lockdowns. They deserve Christmas with their families

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.

The Guardian