Many psychiatrists at the clinic, run by Ramsay Health Care, are understood to be furious that new patients continued to be admitted into the clinic even after the first case became known.
A source close to clinic, who spoke to The Age on the condition of anonymity, voiced concerns over the fact a number of psychiatrists treating patients at the clinic work in both the private and public sectors, fuelling fears the virus could unknowingly spread into other hospitals and health services.
Of the 14 cases connected to the inner Melbourne clinic, five are patients, five are staff and four are close household contacts.
Dozens of close contacts of those infected at the psychiatric clinic are being contacted by health authorities, while a number of staff at risk of infection are unable to treat patients and are quarantining at home. An investigation into the outbreak is ongoing.
Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said all patients and staff were being tested and no new patients would be accepted at the clinic, which is undergoing deep cleaning.
Dr Bernadette Eather, the national head of quality of safety at Ramsay Health Care, defended the health service’s communication with staff and patients surrounding the outbreak.
She said the health service communicated the outbreak to staff once it was alerted to the first positive COVID-19 result by the state government.
Dr Eather declined to give details on when this occurred, but she said “it is certainly our process to communicate to staff if we have had a case in an organisation.”
She added Ramsay Health Care had a “robust and comprehensive” pandemic management plan that was being enforced to prevent future outbreaks and the safety of patients and staff was the service’s highest priority.
“We’ve been restricting visitors for six weeks,” she said. “We have no third-party or contract staff entering the organisation, it’s only essential staff entering the building and we screen absolutely everybody who enters.”
An email from Victoria’s Chief Psychiatrist Neil Coventry to mental health services across the state on Thursday, seen by The Age, urged staff to self-quarantine and monitor themselves for symptoms.
In the email, Dr Coventry said any person who attended the clinic “on or after March 24” was considered at risk of developing COVID-19 and must quarantine for 14 days after their most recent contact with the clinic and undergo testing for the virus.
This includes clinical and non-clinical staff members, patients and visitors.
The email said patients currently in hospital would be moved to private rooms, tested for the virus and screened for symptoms daily. Staff who have attended the clinic have also been ordered not to work in any clinical setting for 14 days after their most recent contact with the clinic.
Albert Road Clinic chief executive Jane Pickworth said the safety of patients, staff and doctors was of “paramount importance” and all non-essential visitors had been banned.
Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said the clinic was being “effectively shut down” and was considered high-risk, with patients likely to have chronic illness or other vulnerabilities.
He said health authorities were doing “absolutely everything that is required” to halt the outbreak.
“There has been really significant shutdown of activities in that facility, no new in-patients, no transfers out, no out-patient activity, no group therapy,” Professor Sutton said.
“We are doing very substantial things, but we understand the explosive potential in enclosed facilities as we have seen in hospitals and aged care facilities and other settings like that.”
Earlier this month, about 100 staff at The Alfred were sent home for 14 days of isolation after a cluster of coronavirus cases were discovered in the haematology and oncology ward. Three cancer patients died after being infected.
Melissa Cunningham is The Age’s health reporter.
Aimee Amiga is a journalist at The Age. Previously, she worked in the Middle East at Haaretz-International New York Times and the Jerusalem Post.