With a total of 16 residents now dead and 69 staff members and residents testing positive for COVID-19, infection control failures at Newmarch House have paved the way for one of the biggest tragedies in the history of the Australian aged care sector.

HelloCare can confirm that Newmarch residents and their families received a statement from the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission (ACQSC) on Thursday.

The statement – that was signed by Commissioner Janet Anderson – outlined actions it had taken against Anglicare, one of which was the appointment of an independent advisor that was nominated by the Commission.

By late yesterday afternoon, Anglicare had agreed to the Commission’s nomination of Andrew Kinkade who has now been appointed as the external advisor of the Newmarch House facility for the next three months.

Given the unprecedented nature of the situation at Newmarch House, one would be forgiven for assuming that the new advisor would have an extensive background in clinical health or infectious disease to complement their management skills, but this is not the case.

In fact, newly appointed Andrew Kinkade is an ex-Macquarie Bank manager and qualified chartered accountant with less than three years of experience overseeing residential aged care.

Mr. Kinkade currently holds the position of General Manager of Residential Care for Catholic Healthcare in Sydney and previously held the position of COO for the National Home Doctor Service (NHDS) in NSW.

While these may not be the credentials that many Newmarch residents and their families would have been hoping to see, that does not necessarily mean Mr. Kinkade is the wrong person for the job – and we certainly wish him all the best.

Over the last year, the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission has garnered a reputation for being a toothless tiger for its inability to intervene on providers who repeatedly fail to meet the minimal standards of care.

The actions taken against Anglicare did nothing to dispel that stereotype.

In addition to appointing the external advisor of the Commission’s choice, Anglicare was also told that it would have to action the advisor’s recommendations and provide regular reports back to the Commission.

Anglicare has also agreed not to admit any new residents into Newmarch House until all risks have been adequately addressed, which given current circumstances, seems like the kind of thing that should really go without saying.

The supposed penalty for failing to comply with these meager demands was the threat of Anglicare having their licence to operate revoked by the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission.

This move was even backed by NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian who said that she was “relieved” that the Commission had stepped in.

“The federal regulator has now put them on notice to say if you don’t do X, Y, and Z, we might revoke your licence. I think that’s a positive step,” she said.

The continual stream of bad news and bizarre subplots that have stemmed from the Newmarch story clearly indicates that this facility was nowhere near ready to deal with a pandemic.

But at this point, it’s hard not to feel that threats of licence revocation have been poorly timed because now is simply not the time to be beating Anglicare Sydney over the head with a stick.

While failings are clear and need to be dealt with, surely right now the focus should be wrapping around the staff at Newmarch so that no more residents succumb to this deadly virus.

Only two days ago the public was alerted that three more staff members had tested positive for COVID-19, while earlier this week a 71-year-old man with no immediate family became the 16th person to die at the facility since the outbreak.

Anglicare’s appointment of Andrew Kinkade as an external advisor is actually the third intervention by the regulator.

According to the Minister for Aged Care, Richard Colbeck, the first regulatory action was an additional capacity that was provided in the form of a team with experience in managing COVID-19.

While the second regulatory action was additional assistance and resource support for the development of a framework to ensure the quality of communication of resident’s circumstances to families was completed.

This raises questions as to just how effective the Commission’s first two interactions with Newmarch House actually were and whether the threat of a revoked licence was actually a thinly-veiled attempt to posture and divert attention from previous failings.

The Commission’s dealings with providers who repeatedly fail to meet quality have provided ample evidence that they are either incapable or unwilling to implement actions and penalties that are improving the quality of care In Australia.

And everyone in the aged care industry is well aware that Australia’s aged care watchdog is definitely more bark than bite.

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