Victorian aged-care COVID crisis a reminder that the pandemic is much bigger than cancelled festivals

While we ache for the return of festivals, live music, and to simply be able to visit a pub void of any restrictions, those living and working in aged care facilities are doing it even tougher.

Many families are facing a difficult choice of whether to remove their loved ones from nursing homes with outbreaks growing across homes in Victoria.

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There is an aged-care COVID crisis going on in Victoria and it just goes to show that this pandemic is bigger than the cancellation of festivals or the closure of pubs.

Currently, more than 800 COVID-19 cases have been linked directly back to aged care homes in Victoria, making up 46 deaths – half of the state’s coronavirus death toll. There have been 952 cases as of Wednesday linked to the facilities, with 474 residents, 419 staff, and 59 people who were close contacts all testing positive for coronavirus.

Cancellations of festivals such as Splendour in the Grass and Falls Festival seem to pale in comparison when looking at the issues faced by aged care centres.

You have to feel for the families involved, with the privatised aged care system seemingly failing their loved ones, with 87 homes in Victoria impacted by the pandemic. Masks were not made compulsory in aged care centres until 13 July, a week after lockdown.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews himself admitted the dire situation saying, “I would not let my mum be in some of these places, I just wouldn’t.”

The worst-hit home came in the suburb of Fawkner, where St Basil’s Homes for the Aged has recorded 89 infections and had nine deaths. Members of the workforce at the aged facility were forced to be sent home and quarantine on Wednesday last week, meaning new staff, who understandably didn’t have a clue about the residents or their routines, were being required to look after residents. There were reports that some residents weren’t adequately cared for or given enough to eat, something that the aged care sector has been accused of even before COVID-19 broke out.

An interim report published in October stated, “Sadly, this failure to properly value and engage with older people as equal partners in our future has extended to our apparent indifference towards aged care services.”

The report goes on to conclude, “The cruel and harmful system must be changed. We owe it to our parents, our grandparents, our partners, our friends. We owe it to strangers. We owe it to future generations. Older people deserve so much more.”

While NSW looks to progressively tighten restrictions, with our gyms undergoing a COVID-safe plan, and group bookings at pubs back to 10 people, these are small sacrifices to make as the state looks on the dire aged-care situation in Victoria.

NSW has the chance to learn from Victoria’s mistakes and prevent situations such as that pertaining to Nicholas Barboussas, who found out of his father, 79-year-old Paul Barboussas’ death, just a day after being told that his father was sitting in his room at St Basil’s Homes for the Aged.

Mr Barboussas told Nine News, “I was just completely lost for words to hear that because seven hours earlier I had a call from the hospital telling me that my dad is fighting for his life.”

Mr Barboussas had called the aged care on Saturday afternoon, after receiving the news from Northern Hospital that morning. Paul Barboussas passed away on Sunday afternoon.

While we may have missed out on filling up the amphitheatre at Splendour in the Grass this past weekend, there are certainly those within and with loved ones in the aged-care system who are hoping for so much more than a return to festival-season.