Escape from Covid cluster

A cleaner at the front door of Outlook Gardens aged care facility. 212209_05 Picture: GARY SISSONS

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

“I didn’t know if I’d see her again.”

A relieved Helen Anderson shed tears as her mother Noreen Winterton was evacuated from a growing Covid-19 cluster at Outlook Gardens aged-care home in Dandenong North.

She and other anxious families were powerless as the deadly virus swept through a dementia ward in the 95-bed facility.

Fortunately for mother-of-eight Noreen, her high-care ward was not infected.

The Outlook Gardens cluster started with an asymptomatic nurse whose last shift was Sunday 19 July, Ms Anderson said.

The nurse came down sick two days later and got tested for Covid-19.

In the meantime, visitors were locked out, staff movements minimised and residents confined to their quarters.

On 24 July, the worker’s positive test result was announced. Within a week, the virus “snowballed”, spreading to 49 residents, staff and other contacts.

In the weeks leading up to the outbreak, it struck Ms Anderson as odd that some staff were not wearing PPE, such as masks.

At the same time, all visitors, such as herself, had to wear masks and were temperature-tested.

However, Ms Anderson told of nurses’ desperate efforts as the workforce became depleted with sickness and quarantining.

“It was impossible to stop it going around.

“A lot of nurses were sleeping there and not going home. They didn’t want to infect their families.

“Some were working double shifts.”

She said the home had kept them updated on a daily basis.

After testing negative, Noreen and at least 20 others were transferred to the strictly-quarantined South Eastern Private Hospital in Mulgrave.

Ms Anderson said health authorities were “moving out who they can”. Non-infected residents were being also transferred into their families’ homes.

Infected residents were sectioned off inside the home, which was being regularly deep-cleaned, Ms Anderson said.

Monash Health took over the running of the home and deployed its nurses on-site..

Outlook Gardens is one of four Melbourne private aged care homes now being managed by either the Commonwealth or state health networks during the Covid crisis.

The others are St Basil’s Home for the Aged in Fawkner, linked to 111 Covid-19 cases as of 30 July, Epping Gardens Aged Care (90) and Kirkbrae Presbyterian Homes in Kilsyth (81).

The Government declared it would step in because “some private (aged care) providers are struggling to maintain staffing levels and basic standards of care”.

More than 200 aged-care residents had been transferred to public and private hospitals. Many of the steepening 100-plus death toll in Victoria are linked to aged care.

From outside a hospital window on 29 July, Ms Anderson and her sister Carmel paid their first visit to Noreen since the evacuation. With limited exceptions, no visitors are allowed at South Eastern Private Hospital.

Ms Anderson held up a sign ‘WE LOVE YOU MUM’.

“It’s such a relief.

“It brought tears to my eyes. It was good to see her looking well.”

Outlook Gardens and Monash Health haven’t responded to the Star Journal’s enquiries.


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