As the outbreak at Newmarch House reaches a new milestone of zero active cases, the Commonwealth health and aged care agencies say they have learnt to be more assertive with facilities when a new case is identified.

On Sunday afternoon and after seven weeks since the outbreak was identified, Angilcare Sydney announced that all residents at its Newmarch House aged care facility in western Sydney had been cleared of the virus.

“This result is an enormous relief to all our families and residents,” Anglicare Sydney said ion a statement.

Of the 37 residents who had tested positive at Newmarch House, 19 have died and 18 have recovered, NSW Health confirmed on Monday.

The first positive cases at the facility were identified on 12 April among a nurse who worked six shifts while asymptomatic and a resident.

To date, there have been 71 positive cases linked to the facility with staff making up the remaining 34 cases (read more here). 

“We remain vigilant to ensure we maintain strict infection control protocols for all our residents at Newmarch House until the site itself is declared COVID-19 free by NSW Health,” Anglicare Sydney said.

Newmarch slow to accept staff offers

The news follows the Senate select committee on COVID-19 inquiring into the response at Newmarch House last Tuesday during a public hearing on the aged care response to the pandemic (read more here).

It heard that an average of 27 Commonwealth-funded staff worked each day during the major part of the outbreak, but that the facility was slow to take up the Commonwealth’s offer under the COVID surge workforce initiatives.

Staff funded through the Mable platform commenced on 16 April and Aspen Medical staff commenced on 20 April. However, Aspen staff was first offered on 14 April, the Department of Health told the committee.

Michael Lye

Department of Health deputy secretary Michael Lye said all facilities in their emergency plan typically looked at losing 25 per cent of their staff during an outbreak.

However, he said they still often underestimated the impact of an outbreak on their workforce in reality.

As a result he and Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner Janet Anderson are now more assertive when seeking speaking with providers.

“We have often encountered in this outbreak … that they don’t quite understand the impact on their workforce of an outbreak. They think that they’re going to be alright,” Mr Lye told the committee.

“We have learnt to now counsel them aggressively at the start and say, ‘You will have, as well as your ICE staff, staff who have to isolate’ – and in Newmarch’s case it was particularly severe – people who will be scared.’

“Families will say to them, ‘Don’t go to work, Mum and Dad, because of the risk of the illness.’ People have a legitimate fear about the illness. “I think Newmarch was no different to other organisations who’ve said, ‘We think we’ll be okay,’ and then they haven’t been,” he said.

Janet Anderson

Ms Anderson said she and Mr Lye talk with every single manager of a service where there is a new outbreak in the first 24 to 36 hours after the advice has been received about the index case.

“We talk very energetically about all of the things that they have done, that they need to do and that we can assist them in doing – particularly what the department can assist them in doing,” Ms Anderson told the committee.

“In particular, in relation to workforce management supply, as Mr Lye said, there is a certain assertiveness to our tone where if they say, ‘No, it’s all sorted; we’re good,’ then the next question is, ‘And have you got the roster for the next fortnight?’

“If they say, ‘No, but we can see our way through to Thursday,’ there’s a follow-up line of questions, because we don’t take anything for granted,” she said.

Anglicare thanked the Commonwealth Government, NSW Health, Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District and agencies that provided surge staff.

“We [also] acknowledge our staff, those from Newmarch House as well as those from other services in Anglicare who have joined our surge team. Their dedication, sacrifice, inspirational care and support have made this day possible,” Anglicare Sydney said.

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1 Comment

  1. I don’t know if it occurs to anyone else that that the headline strikes at the heart of the problem in aged care. “Regulators learn to counsel more strongly.” Regulators are meant to regulate, not just counsel. Imagine if the police had to rely on counselling to implement the Road Traffic Act? Sure, counselling and advice should be used first, but, for a timely response, regulators need to be able to enforce. The problem was also apparent in the total exclusions applied by most RACFs, in the face of advice, pleas, and even regulation (Emergency Management Directives) from the PM, federal Minister for Aged Care, state Premiers and Ministers for Health, the AACQSC, the Royal Commission, and the various advocacy services – quite apart from provisions of the Charter and Standards. Some of them are still not abiding by their own industry-endorsed Access Code. They know that no-one has the power to make them do anything.

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