Frail and vulnerable residents became distressed and frightened as they were evacuated from Earle Haven aged care facility, the royal commission has heard.

When the paramedic, Cary Strong, arrived on the scene at 2.13pm on 11 July, he found a scene of chaos.

Mr Strong quickly assessed there were not enough staff present to care for all the residents, and called for back up. 

“Going on a ratio of patient care, nine staff to a possibility of 69 patients, I didn’t believe that to be safe, and that’s when I actually asked for further ambulance resources to be responded,” he told the commission.

A “chaotic” scene

Karen Heard, consultant to People Care, which owns Earle Haven and is the approved provider, told the commission that when she arrived at the facility the scene was “chaotic”.

“When I drove through the gates of Earle Haven, there were up to eight to 10 ambulances. There was quite a lot of people out the front of Hibiscus House. It was very disorganised,” she said.

Decision made to remove residents 

The team that had assembled to help, which comprised of ambulance and hospital staff, and clinical staff from the Department of Health, quickly decided it wasn’t safe to administer care at the site, and made the difficult decision that the safest option was to move the residents. 

While some residents had been removed immediately due to their health, most were removed starting at around 6pm.

All 68 residents were moved to nearby hospitals and about a dozen nursing homes.

Senior counsel assisting the commission, Peter Gray, said the incident was “distressing for both residents and their families”.

Computers removed

When Mr Strong asked for patient care plans, staff from the facility told him the documents were on computers that had been removed from the premises.

A woman who held folders containing information about the patients was flanked by two police officers because, in Mr Strong’s words, “other persons wanted those folders and they wanted to punch her head in”.

92-year-old woman “crying and screaming”

Mr Strong said over the course of the afternoon and into the evening as the facility was emptied, staff were arguing, residents were becoming distressed, disoriented, hungry and thirsty. One residents suffered a fall.

A 92-year-old woman became extremely distressed and began to cry.

“Her daughter was there; she was crying as well, trying to get the elderly lady to settle down and comfort her, and she just kept crying and screaming that – she thought her daughter was her mother and kept referring to her as her mother, to – ‘Please stop this,’” Mr Strong told the royal commission. 

The woman was taken to hospital after it was determined it was not safe to move her to another aged care facility.

Dispute over payments

The emergency evacuation is believed to have stemmed from a dispute between Help Street, which managed the facility, and People Care, the approved provider.

Kristofer Bunker, via video link from the UK, said $3 million was owed to Help Street.

The focus of the hearings on Monday was to assess what occurred, and if the regulator did all it could to prevent the situation from arising.

Mr Gray said systems must be in place to protect aged care residents from being turned out of their homes.

He said, “The regulatory frame-work… should not permit vulnerable people to be put onto the street and should be geared to intervene, to address the risk of sudden cessation of services.”

Image: ABC.

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