Staff of the contractor managing a Gold Coast facility discussed its potential withdrawal and the option of calling emergency services prior to the evacuation of residents, the royal commission has heard.
The 11 July evacuation was preceded by an ongoing deterioration in the relationship between owner and approved provider People Care and HelpStreet, which had been contracted to provide care services since April 2018, and inadequate sharing of key information such as complaints, the inquiry heard.
That deterioration culminated in People Care telling HelpStreet on 8 July that its services would not be needed from 9 August and HelpStreet responding on 10 July with a request for almost $3 million dollars to resolve the dispute including half by the next day.
The week-long Brisbane hearing kicked off on Monday with a case study on the July closure of two residential care houses at the Earle Haven Retirement Village at Nerang on the Gold Coast (read our backgrounder).
The collapse in care provision resulted in 68 vulnerable residents being evacuated by state emergency response services following a triple-zero call from the premises on 11 July, Senior Counsel Assisting Peter Gray told the royal commission.
In the triple-zero call, which was played at the hearing, the facility’s clinical care coordinator Telecia Tuccori called for “bulk” emergency assistance at 1.33pm saying the facility was in administration and not enough staff remained to care for residents.
“I need to do like a bulk one, we have just gone into administration and the staff have gone home and it’s not safe for our residents to be here anymore,” Ms Tuccori told the operator.
The commission heard a plan for Ms Tuccori to call triple-zero was proposed at a meeting that morning attended by HelpStreet staff including HelpStreet Global chief executive officer and chairman Kristofer Bunker, facility manager Karen Parsons, Ms Toccori and other staff, who were asked to prepare a list of equipment for removal.
Ms Tuccori gave evidence that Ms Parsons told her on 10 July “we were out” after midday on 11 July or on 9 August.
Ms Parsons, an executive director of HelpStreet, told the inquiry Mr Bunker told her this and what happened depended on how People Care responded to the settlement request.
A chaotic situation
Queensland Ambulance Service paramedic and senior operations supervisor Cary Strong described a chaotic situation when he arrived on site a bit before 2.30pm.
He told the inquiry he saw a removalist truck in the driveway, people moving furniture and boxes out of the facility, rooms missing key infrastructure and equipment and people including People Care and HelpStreet executives arguing.
Among the missing items was the computer containing residents’ care plans and clinical records, Mr Strong said.
The computer was removed the day before for an upgrade, according to evidence from HelpStreet employees.
Photos showing a removalist removing furniture around midday were submitted as evidence.
The inquiry also heard from PeopleCare nurse administrator and former Earle Haven facility manager Karen Heard, who arrived on site about 3.30pm.
She also described the scene as chaotic and disorganised and talked about measures she took to bring current and former staff in and arrange care and hospitality services so that residents did not need to be evacuated.
Decision to leave facility
The commission heard conflicting reports over who made the decision for HelpStreet to leave the facility and when the decision was made.
People Care managing director Arthur Miller gave evidence about the relationship with HelpStreet worsening further at the end of May when he had concerns for HelpStreet’s ability to adequately operate the facility following a meeting with residents.
Mr Miller decided to end the relationship on 8 July and gave HelpStreet a month’s notice. He told the inquiry he gave a month because his lawyer advised him to.
“The idea is there is a time so we can re-hire the employees back to People Care and continue to look after the residents in a proper manner and rectify what was happening with HelpStreet,” Mr Miller said.
Counsel assisting Paul Bolster questioned Mr Bunker about HelpStreet’s response to Mr Miller, which was sent at 5pm on 10 July, and whether he thought it was reasonable to expect the payment in the time proposed.
The proposal for $3 million to HelpStreet to resolve the dispute included half by midday the following day, a quarter by 30 July and the remaining quarter by 9 August, and raised the prospect of HelpStreet going into administration if Mr Miller didn’t accept the offer, the commission heard.
“I believed that he would open up communication in relation to that. But it was a starting point for discussion,” Mr Bunker said.
Mr Bolster said the evidence presented suggested that HelpStreet made a decision it was going to leave the facility possibly on the evening of 10 July or perhaps the following morning.
Mr Bunker said that was not the case and that People Care told HelpStreet to leave.
He said Ms Heard told him on “multiple occasions through the period of time that she was there, up until the point which we did leave but on the agreement of People Care and Queensland Health and the police.”
Mr Bolster suggested that was incorrect because Ms Heard arrived on site at 3.30pm and there was evidence that by at least 12.10pm a removalist van was on site and people from the removalist company were removing HelpStreet goods from the facility.
Mr Bunker denied HelpStreet made a decision to leave before Ms Heard arrived at 3.30pm.
In his opening statements, Mr Gray highlighted a 10-year history of poor compliance for People Care.
He said the commission would inquire into the extent Commonwealth bodies responsible for the regulation of safety and quality of aged care were adequately monitoring and appropriately responding over the months and years leading to the event.
Read our coverage on that here: Inquiry highlights siloed approach to regulation
To stay up to date on the latest about the Royal Commission into Aged Care and Quality go to our special coverage.
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