Leading Aged Services Australia CEO Sean Rooney said the number of aged care homes with infections was increasing. “The clear and present danger persists,” Mr Rooney said. “This is a matter of life and death.”
He said visitors to residential care services must take personal responsibility and carefully comply with local rules introduced to protect their loved ones in residential care.
“This includes enhanced protections for residents and staff, including limiting visitations,” he said.
Glendale said four of its employees had tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday night.
None of them has been identified as a close contact of the 90-year-old resident, who returned a positive test after being admitted to hospital on July 6. The man continued to receive treatment in hospital.
It was unclear whether the staff members had contracted the virus while working at Glendale.
Mr Hancock said while no aged care provider wanted to be in this situation, Glendale had been planning for this scenario for months and was as prepared as it could be.
He said all residents were in their rooms, the home was closed to visitors until further notice and staff were instructed not to enter any other aged care homes.
“Given the scale of testing we have undertaken, we need to prepare ourselves for the possibility that we may receive more positive test results.”
Jemaina Santos, whose 92-year-old mother-in-law Emma Kotsakis is at Glendale, said the aged care home was a nice place.
“I can’t blame them for what’s happened. This is the first time something like this has happened and everyone is struggling to cope.”
When Ms Santos heard on the news that a resident of Glendale had been diagnosed with COVID-19 this week she panicked. “I called Glendale and it was so hard to get through – the phone line was jammed,” she said.
Ms Santos and her husband Sonny – Ms Kotsakis’ youngest son – are not the primary contact for the aged care centre and when Ms Santos finally got through, she could not get confirmation of who had been infected. “It was a bit of an uneasy situation.”
Before the pandemic Mr and Ms Santos and their sons, PJ and Aron, used to visit Ms Kotsakis at Glendale every Sunday after church.
“We miss her terribly,” Ms Santos said. “Everyone loves her – even in the centre, staff would say she is very lovely and doesn’t complain.”
The family is close: Ms Kotsakis lived with them for 15 years in both the Philippines and Australia.
“I used to say I married her as well,” Ms Santos said. “It was a joy having her, she looked after my children, she helped us financially.”
She is worried about Ms Kotsakis and has requested a zoom call with her. “My mother-in-law is vulnerable – everyone there is vulnerable. It’s very hard.”
Meanwhile, aged care provider Benetas said it had made the “difficult” decision to temporarily restrict visitor access to all nine of its aged care homes in metropolitan Melbourne.
A staff member who worked at one of its homes – St George’s in Altona Meadows- tested positive on July 7.
For the next six weeks only essential personnel including key staff, health care providers, caterers and cleaners would be able to access the centres.
“Given the significantly heightened risk of community transmission across metropolitan Melbourne we believe this is an important preventative measure to protect the health of those in our care,” CEO Sanda Hills said in a statement.
Benetas said before reimposing visitor restrictions on July 8 it had spoken to more than 250 residents, with 84 per cent supporting the decision.
“Benetas understands however that not being able to see a loved one is very difficult and its disappointing for everyone that we are in this position.”
However, Council of the Ageing chief executive Ian Yates said blanket visitor bans in situations where there were no coronavirus cases were in breach of the national industry code for visiting residential aged care homes during COVID-19.
“We are getting a growing number of complaints where people are getting no notice, no information and no indication of when the situation would be reviewed,” he said.
Mr Yates said aged care centres should continue to allow compassionate visits if a resident was at the end of their life or a family member was playing a vital role in their physical or mental health, such as feeding them every day.
Dr Sarah Russell, the director of Aged Care Matters, said it was reasonable for aged care homes where there had been a positive COVID test to be locked down while all residents were tested.
“It is not reasonable for other aged care homes in Melbourne to be locked down,” she said.
“Lockdown regulations allow families to provide caring duties for older relatives living in the community. They should also be allowed to continue to provide caring duties for older people living in aged care homes.”
Jewel Topsfield is Melbourne Editor of The Age.