'Sitting waiting to die': Care home’s ‘horrific’ virus failure
The Sydney aged care home responsible for almost a fifth of Australia's coronavirus deaths has been lashed for its "horrific" handling of a virus outbreak as grieving families call for answers.
The outbreak at Newmarch House in western Sydney was declared over by NSW Health on June 15 but not before families were put through two months of trauma and tragedy.
The coronavirus crisis at the aged care home, ran by Anglicare Sydney, left 19 people dead and saw 37 residents and 34 staff test positive for the virus.
Speaking to Four Corners, grieving families of the 19 Newmarch residents killed by the virus said their loved ones were left in heartbreaking and lonely situations in an apparent attempt to keep the outbreak contained.
Nicole Fahey, the granddaughter of 76-year-old Ann Fahey, said she wouldn't stop until her family was given answers.
"They're sitting there waiting to die. They're hoping to not move them to hospital. How are they going to survive? Just sit there and get worse? Get them out," Ms Fahey told the program.
"It's a no-brainer for any normal Australian."
Ann was moved to Nepean Hospital - the only Newmarch House resident to be taken to hospital with coronavirus - a day after workers found the 76-year-old collapsed in her room with a fever and the virus.
"The infection control at the ICU unit...what I saw, in comparison to that home and that room ... if that wasn't able to be facilitated at Newmarch, get them out," Ms Fahey said.
"Why weren't they at the hospital? Why weren't they all in those ICU rooms? Give them a chance."
Nicole said the move to hospital happened only after she sent the family's harrowing story to the media - but it was already too late.
Ann died hours later, her body already riddled with the virus.
"Her lungs were completely ravaged and damaged by COVID to the point where they weren't working either. And we just all stood there and we literally couldn't believe how fast that happened. She was having coffees and brunch, like, a few weeks before," Ms Fahey said.
"She can't even have a coffee, and that was really hard. Any death is horrible, but I think with the poor communication that we had over the last month, there has to be an inquiry. This has to be looked into, because it shouldn't have happened."
Mary Watson, whose mum Alice Bacon was the 19th and final person to die from the virus at Newmarch House, is also looking for answers.
Ms Watson said she was the one to have to tell her mum that she had coronavirus.
"She found out that there was a problem when she hadn't received her medication in the early morning and at 10.15am she saw a sign on the door ... it said something about gowning up, it was a caution for the staff," Ms Watson said.
"But I had to tell my mum that she was positive because she was so distressed about what was happening outside, because she stayed behind that door and she had no knowledge of what was happening on the outside."
"And then all of a sudden the outside came and hit her in the face."
Ms Bacon, who was 93 when she died from the virus, was "sharp as a tack", Ms Watson said and was completely aware of the situation she was in.
Ms Watson labelled the treatment of her mum as "horrific".
"Frozen sandwiches for lunch again for my mum. She's cold, she can't reach her blanket, she's doing her washing in the bathroom sink. It's just horrific," Ms Watson told the program in May.
"I don't want that to be the last time I see my mum. I want to be able to walk up and wave at the window, at least. I think that would help their mental health."
Three weeks after testing positive, Ms Bacon's health started to deteriorate, but the response from health officials continued to lag.
"My mum became very dehydrated. She was ordered fluids, IV fluids. And it was the next afternoon before they were put in and started," Ms Watson told Four Corners.
Three days before Ms Bacon died, Ms Watson was allowed to visit her mum inside the home, with a relative filming the heartbreaking interaction.
"It was distressing for all of us to watch her like that. She just kept yelling, it was distressing for all of us," she said.
"She just kept yelling, 'Get me out of here!' Screaming, holding my hand so tight, squeezing it, yelling at us to get her out of there. Then, towards the end, she just sort of threw her hands up in the air and just said, 'Get!' Like we failed her a little bit, I think. Yeah, it was horrific."
Newmarch House told a number of families hoping to take their loved ones out of the aged care home that NSW Health had instructed them no resident was to leave the residence.
Addressing the criticism at the height of the home's virus outbreak, Anglicare Sydney CEO Grant Millard said it had been a "monumental challenge" to staff Newmarch House.
"Getting that staff in there who know what they're doing, who are guaranteed to turn up, that is a day-by-day challenge," Mr Millard said in May.
"We've reached out to not only our own agency supplies, but eight aged care agencies who do supply staff. We've gone to local hospitals, private hospitals, seeking to get more staff, and it has been a monumental challenge."
And after four people died at the home in a single day, Mr Millard again grappled to offer his sympathies.
"To see them dying so quickly in these circumstances, despite the best medical care and attention that's been given to them and with the full staffing we have on board now, it's still a situation of significant grief and trauma," he said in May.
"At the end of the day, we are just one humble nursing home trying to look after people who we love and care for, and this is stretching everybody."
It's believed the outbreak started after a staff member infected with the virus, but only showing very mild symptoms, continued to work.
A total of 37 residents and 34 staff tested positive at the Anglicare-run facility in western Sydney while 19 residents died.
"This extraordinary challenge also highlighted the compassion and dedication of our staff, some of whom had to self-isolate and others who continued to work in difficult and unprecedented circumstances to maintain the care of all our residents," an Anglicare spokesman said in a statement on June 15, after the outbreak was declared over.
"While the outbreak is now over, the virus remains active within the community. Anglicare must remain vigilant in screening and infection control at Newmarch House, and across all our other aged care homes."
Originally published as Sydney home's 'horrific' virus failure