Failing NSW aged care homes kept secret during COVID
Hundreds of NSW families have no way of knowing if their elderly relative lives in one of 31 aged care homes across the state stung with a secret notice for failing standards during the pandemic.
The shocking number of homes slapped with directions to improve their service follows revelations the supposed "cop" on the aged care beat completely stopped unannounced visits to check safety standards during the peak of the COVID-19 crisis.
The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission has ordered 82 nursing homes to clean up their act since March 1, but none of the providers have been publicly named, leaving families in the dark as the breaches have only been dubbed "low or medium" risk.
The Daily Telegraph can reveal almost half of these breaches were for NSW homes, with 16 in Victoria, 13 in SA, 10 in Qld, 9 in WA, 2 in Tasmania and 1 in the Northern Territory.
The Commission - which issues the compliance notices - does not detail what the failures were.
Meanwhile Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck on Monday confirmed there had been a "cessation" of spot checks by the Commission "based on medical advice" in recent months.
"There was a period where unannounced visits were ceased," he said.
Mr Colbeck said unannounced visits have now begun again, defending the temporary stop by claiming the Commission conducted safety checks in other ways.
"The Quality and Safety Commission has a number of mechanisms to investigate and to check on residential aged care facilities," he said. "It's not a one-touch regulator."
The government yesterday tipped an extra $563.4 million into emergency COVID-19 support measures for the sector, including funds to stop workers from moving between homes.
Commissioner Janet Anderson said the non-public improvement notice issued to 31 NSW aged care homes was one of a "number of actions" the watchdog could take when a breach was discovered.
"If the Commission is not satisfied that necessary improvements are being made to meet the Quality Standards as outlined in the plan for continuous improvement, then the Commission may escalate regulatory action," she said.
Labor's aged care spokeswoman Julie Collins said there needed to be "more transparency" around reporting of failures in aged care homes so older Australians and their loved ones "know what is happening".
"We know how devastating COVID-19 has been in aged care homes so it is deeply disappointing that failures have been kept hidden," he said.
Ms Collins said it was "completely unacceptable" the aged care regulator didn't do more to ensure aged care homes were ready for the pandemic.
"How can anyone trust this government when it is only now admitting that the Regulator ceased visits to facilities for months," she said.
"Families, loved ones and residents deserve full transparency and to know if NSW aged care homes are safe."
QUEENSLAND HOTLINE TO REACH OUT TO NSW RESIDENTS
NSW residents blocked from accessing healthcare in Queensland can now dial a special hotline to get an exemption after the Palaszczuk government admitted its system was failing people.
Queensland on Monday caved to public pressure in the wake of shocking cases of healthcare being hampered by border bureaucracy and introduced a new unit to fix the granting of exemptions.
Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles said most medical exemptions had been granted, but acknowledged there had been a "small proportion" of problematic cases and that was "too many".
"We've said we want to do better," he said.
Earlier this month a Tweed Heads boy missed a potentially lifesaving check-up at the Prince Charles Hospital following a double lung transplant, while a Ballina woman lost an unborn twin baby after being transferred to Sydney instead of Brisbane.
Under the changes clinicians will co-ordinate patients seeking travel exemptions, with cases to be prioritised for assessment by the Queensland Chief Health Officer.
Despite the concession, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk remained adamant she would not budge on borders regardless of external pressure.
"The federal government can throw whoever they want at that, we can have Clive Palmer as well, but I will not be moved," she said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison continued to agitate for greater consistency on border issues but said yesterday there was "no dispute" from the federal government that states and territories had the "powers" to control their closure.
"The point that we want to be able to achieve together is the road back," he said.
"The road back for our economy to ensure that we can see jobs continue to come back to our economy, whether it is in NSW, Queensland, Western Australia, Tasmania or anywhere else."
Premier Gladys Berejiklian has also come under fire for the negative impact on agriculture caused by the strict border closure between NSW and Victoria.
Ms Berejiklian said she wouldn't consider allowing farm workers free movement into NSW before Friday's meeting of National Cabinet, but flagged other restrictions would soon be relaxed. That's despite her deputy premier and agriculture minister calling for freedom of movement for farm workers.
Ms Berejiklian said that would "present a bigger risk" than current policies.
"But it's a risk that we have to assess, and a risk we're willing to take on if that's what the health advice says," she said.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has also been critical of the hard borders between states.
FLYING JOB SQUADS AROUND NSW
Job experts will be deployed into NSW regions with high unemployment rates to scout out work opportunities for locals struggling in the wake of the pandemic.
Several teams will be sent to the Hunter, Illawarra, south coast, mid-north coast, New England and northwest, north coast, Western Sydney and southwest Sydney as an "on-the-ground presence" to connect small businesses with people looking for work in the right fields.
The experts will look at conditions specific to the region - including demographics, industries and training opportunities - reach out to businesses to determine what jobs are available and report back to employment agencies.
The taskforce will also be on the lookout for major employment opportunities, such as an upcoming construction projects, and advise jobseekers in the region of what types of certificates or skills to get in order to qualify for work when it starts.
The highest unemployment rates in the state include the north coast with 9.5 per cent and the mid north coast with 9.1 per cent.
The region with the total highest number of jobseekers is greater Western Sydney with 72,308 people on welfare looking for work, followed by the southwest of Sydney with 65,478 people looking for employment.
A GOOD FATHER`S DAY PRESENT
Tough restrictions urging Sydney residents to stay away from aged care homes until September 12 could be scrapped in time for Father's Day, if the number of new cases linked with a concerning coronavirus cluster in the CBD stays low.
Health authorities were "very concerned" about the cluster last week, but Premier Gladys Berejiklian said fears that the outbreak would spread across Sydney "have not yet materialised".
Fears last week that the outbreak could spread led authorities on Friday to urge Sydney and Central Coast residents to stay away from aged care homes - just a week out from Fathers' Day.
Of the state's 10 new cases reported on Monday, six were from hotel quarantine.
Four cases were linked to the CBD cluster, and two of those were household contacts of previous cases.
Despite Sydney not being "out of the woods" in relation to the outbreak centred around City Tattersalls Club gym, Ms Berejiklian said rates of community transmission from the cluster "are not as bad as what we'd first anticipated".
"If this reassuring picture continues we will be updating our aged care advice later in the week ahead of Father's Day, and may well be able to see some of those restrictions on age care," Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said.
STAY AWAY HUMIDITY AS SYDNEY GEARS UP FOR SPRING
With warm weather on the doorstep, Sydneysiders are springing into action - hitting the beaches, parks and great outdoors.
And experts say the sunshine is good for the mind and body - with the risk of COVID-19 transmission being much lower in outdoor settings.
Infectious diseases expert Nigel McMillan said the social impact of the weather could make a difference.
"There are some viruses that are more transmissible in certain periods," he said. "Part of that is weather and part of that is down to social effect.
"The virus needs groups of people socialising and close contact for more than 15 minutes. (But) if you are getting together outside on the beach as opposed to inside - you can imagine the virus would transfer less."
With winter giving way to spring as of today, Professor McMillan also pointed to a study published by the University of Sydney which found a link between humidity and COVID.
"The lower the humidity, the more cases were reported. UV rays are a good killer of viruses generally, but we haven't seen an extensive seasonal pattern with COVID yet," he said.
Chatswood grandmother Michele McAlpine has been taking her granddaughter Lana, 4 and niece Paisley, 16, to the beach since the weather warmed up.
"We are definitely getting out in the sunshine," she said. "We have been going walking a lot and to parks and the beaches. It just feels fresh and relaxing.
"We took my elderly mum today and that's the first time she's been anywhere since March. We've been going on weekdays to avoid big crowds.
"You feel regenerated."
VICTORIAN TAXPAYERS FORK OUT $1M FOR BUNGLED HOTEL QUARANTINE
The state government paid almost $1m to an army of consultants working behind the scenes on its fatally botched hotel quarantine program.
Figures tabled at the inquiry into the program show bureaucrats expected the program would cost up to $133m by the end of June.
This included $924,000 spent on consultants, including the big firms Boston Consulting, ($393,000), PwC ($303,000) and Deloitte ($197,000).
Controversial company Unified Security, which was not on the government's preferred supplier list but was chosen at least in part because it was Indigenous-owned, was on track for a $44.9m payday - which was most of the security budget.
In comparison, Wilson Security was due to be paid $8.8m to June 30, and MSS was in line for $12m.
The documents, generated by the Department of Jobs, Regions and Precincts to discuss how to cover a projected $24m budget blowout, also show Crown Melbourne was by far the biggest accommodation supplier, in line to be paid $15m.
The next biggest supplier, Pan Pacific, was to be paid a little less than $5m.
Payments of more than $1m were also made to the two hotels where COVID-19-positive guests inadvertently infected workers and were linked to 99 per cent of Victoria's second wave, the Stamford Plaza ($1.9m) and Rydges on Swanston ($1.7m).
The total accommodation bill is expected to reach $62m.
The inquiry, chaired by retired judge Jennifer Coate, heard DJPR Secretary Simon Phemister will appear, and counsel assisting, Tony Neal QC, said the "deciders, not the doers'' would be called.
Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp also confirmed he expected to be called, as he refused to answer questions from the media about his role in the decision to use private security instead of the Australian Defence Force.
"I am more than happy to fully co-operate with the hotel inquiry," he said.
The inquiry also heard on Monday that quarantine hotels were not given specific instructions on infection control at the time they signed up to be used to quarantine returned overseas travellers.
Unni Menon, who usually worked as the department's director of aviation strategy but was put in charge of procurement and contracting, said "there were no formal written instructions issued to, or discussions held with, hotels on applicable infection control requirements at the time that they entered into formal agreements with DJPR.''
Mr Menon said "information and instructions about infection control'' were outlined in the hotels' obligations in the formal agreements.
"We clearly identified the responsibilities of each supplier (or hotel) in relation to cleaning and disinfection requirements in the contracts,'' he said.
However, Mr Menon also said he had only received "clarity and detail'' about required cleaning procedures from the DHHS in mid-June, which he had immediately circulated to the hotels involved in the program.
Originally published as Failing NSW aged care homes kept secret during COVID