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Deaths in aged care shame us all

The daily death toll in Victoria is a stark reminder of who is most at risk during this pandemic. On Tuesday, 14 of the 19 deaths were in aged care. On Monday, it was the same. Of the 313 Australian COVID-19 deaths reported as of Monday, Commonwealth data shows 220 were from an aged care facility. Of those, 189 were in Victoria.

There was never any doubt that if COVID-19 was to infiltrate aged care homes, the consequences would be calamitous. While in Victoria most homes went through the first surge of COVID-19 cases mostly unscathed, the second surge has taken a heavy toll on the sector, with many overwhelmed by outbreaks.

It’s an obvious question, but one that needs to be urgently confronted: how could a sector with so much warning and time to prepare, be so unprepared when COVID-19 started to spread rapidly through the Victorian community?

This week Peter Rozen QC, counsel assisting the royal commission into aged care, began hearings into the sector’s response to the pandemic. Even though we had had reasonable success controlling the spread of the virus in many parts of the community, when it came to protecting this most vulnerable group, we had failed, the commission heard.

This is partly the result of the underfunding and de-skilling of the largely privately run aged care centres, problems that were highlighted in the commission’s interim report last November, well before the pandemic.

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