The NSW coroner will investigate all COVID-19-related deaths at Newmarch House.

The western Sydney aged care facility saw 70 people become infected with the virus and 17 residents die, in what became Australia’s most deadly outbreak.

Of Australia’s 102 deaths in total, nearly 17 per cent were at Newmarch House.

Staff member carried virus into the home

The COVID-19 virus first entered the home when an employee worked six shifts while displaying mild symptoms, only later discovering she was carrying the virus.

It quickly became apparent the virus had spread among staff and residents. Within days of the first case being identified, it was revealed that ten people – six staff members and four residents – had the virus.

With the first COVID-19 case identified on 10 April, and new cases up until 30 April, three weeks later, questions were raised about the home’s infection control procedures.

In late April, five residents died within a period of only 24 hours. The last resident to pass away from COVID-19 at Newmarch House was on 19 May. 

Problems with staffing and PPE hampered response

The home struggled to staff the facility in the early days of the outbreak, with more than 50 staff at one point either quarantined with the infection, or socially isolated due to being in contact with someone who had tested positive.

It took nearly two weeks for the government to step in and provide a ‘surge workforce’ after family members protested outside the home and began contacting the media with their concerns. 

One family member told radio station 2GB the home appeared to be “unmanned” or “grossly understaffed”, with another saying, “I feel my mum is being left to die in her room.”

The home also found it difficult to access enough personal protective equipment in the early stages of the crisis.

In early May, Grant Millard, the CEO of Anglicare, which operates Newmarch House, admitted that many staff at the nursing home did not know how to use PPE properly. “The use of PPE is foreign to a lot of people,” he said at the time.

If PPE is not put on or taken off correctly, there is the potential for fatal consequences during the outbreak of a deadly disease.

More residents should have gone to hospital

Mr Millard recently conceded that more residents who contracted COVID-19 at Newmarch should have gone to hospital.

He told the ABC that residents were given the option to move to hospital, but many chose to stay at Newmarch. “If I had my time again I’d be insisting that people who tested positive for COVID-19 would go to hospital,” he said. “In hindsight, that would have been my preference.”

Newmarch now COVID-19-free

On the weekend, Anglicare announced that Newmarch House was, at last, free of COVID-19.

“This result is an enormous relief to all our families and residents,” a statement from the provider said.

The police will prepare a brief for the coroner

“The state coroner has accepted jurisdiction for COVID-19 related deaths of residents from Newmarch House,” said a statement from the Department of Justice.

“Police will prepare a brief of evidence for the coroner.”

Image: Jeremy Poland, iStock.

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