Australian Medical Association Says Chronic Problems in Aged Care Industry Driving Virus Outbreak in Victoria

July 27, 2020 Updated: July 27, 2020

The outbreak of COVID-19 in Victorian aged care facilities continues to grow with more than 600 cases of the virus now connected to outbreaks in care homes around the state.

Speaking at a joint press conference on July 27 with Chief Medical Officer Brett Sutton, Victorian Premier Dan Andrews said that 683 cases of COVID-19 and 5 deaths in the past 24 hours were linked to aged care facilities around the state.

Addressing the growing aged care situation, Sutton explained that the outbreaks were a consequence of community transmission, noting that the outbreaks were overwhelmingly a case of a single or a couple of staff members spreading the infection.

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Brett Sutton the Chief Health Officer of Victoria speaks to the media in Melbourne, Australia on June 22, 2020. (Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

Explaining that those infected in this environment are often at a significantly higher risk of dying, the chief medical officer said that the new case numbers of COVID-19 in aged care facilities were very challenging.

“There are now 84 cases tied to St Basil’s at Fawkner, 82 at Estia Health in Ardeer, 77 at Epping Gardens Aged Care, and 62 at Menarock Aged Care in Essendon,” said Sutton

Another 57 cases were connected to Kirkbrae Presbyterian Homes in Kilsyth while 53 cases were linked to Glendale Aged Care in Werribee.

Chronic Issues the Cause of the COVID-19 Aged Care Crisis

The President of the Australian Medical Association, Dr. Tony Bartone, said that the COVID-19 aged care crisis in Australia is a result of chronic issues with the industry.

News Corp’s The Australian reported on July 27  that Bartone as having said: “Underfunding, workforce issues, guidelines, accreditations, all the issues we have seen highlighted in the royal commission on this sector underpin a lot of what’s happening now.”

One of the most significant contributing factors to the high number of cases Bartone said was the movement of staff between multiple aged care facilities.

“There has been attention focused recently on trying to provide support to try to limit the movement of staff between clearly, but also the lack of trained appropriate aged care workers has been chronic in the industry,” said Bartone.

The bulk of the 161 deaths in Australia have been people aged over 70, including 67 residents in aged care services.

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People wearing face masks are seen at the entrance of the Menarock Life aged care facility, where a cluster of some 28 new infections had been reported, in the Melbourne suburb of Essendon on July 14, 2020. (William West/AFP via Getty Images)

Bartone has previously spoken out on the issue of aged care during the pandemic. On May 20, in an interview with ABC Radio Melbourne, Bartone said the sector was under stress and under-resourced.

Explaining that the 2019 Royal Commission found that the sector needed more doctors and more nurses to deliver the appropriate clinical care that residents needed, Bartone said that COVID-19 had highlighted the critical lack of these resources.

“When we get an outbreak, we’re having to fly in specialist teams of doctors and nurses to bolster the resources at those facilities to ensure that we’re lifting that infection control to the highest level possible.”

“Unfortunately, it really comes down to having the redundancy in terms of that resourcing. So, if you’ve got staff members that are unwell, that can’t come into work, you need to replace them. In an already constrained environment, that puts additional stress on other measures that need to take place in terms of the clinical care.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on July 27 that the government is deploying every effort to ensure that it is doing what is necessary for the aged care sector.

On July 25 the Australian government announced it would create a Victorian Aged Care Response Centre to co-ordinate and expand resources to tackle the challenge of COVID-19 in aged care services.

Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, and Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Richard Colbeck, said the federal government-led centre would offer a clear and direct oversight to managing outbreaks.