Grant Millard details dysfunction behind Newmarch COVID response

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Management of Newmarch House struggled to navigate bureaucratic squabbling and contradictory government advice for dealing with a fatal COVID-19 outbreak at the aged care home in the crucial first few weeks of the infection, the Royal Commission has heard.

The Anglicare facility in Western Sydney came under the microscope yesterday as the Commission examined its response to the outbreak that led to 70 people becoming infected and the deaths of 17 residents.

Grant Millard, the CEO of Anglicare described the divisions that existed behind the scenes once the first case was diagnosed at the facility on April 11.

Mr Millard said disagreements between state and federal authorities over whether to transfer all COVID-positive residents to hospitals were “robust”.

At the time, Newmarch House was getting specialist advice from James Branley, the Head of Infectious Diseases at Nepean Hospital.

Mr Millard said Dr Branley was opposed to transferring residents out of the home.

He told the inquiry that Dr Branley was also frustrated over the lack of clarity over who was making decisions.

The situation became so grave that Mr Millard contacted Federal Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck seeking clarity about who was in charge of clinical decisions and was told it was Dr Branley.

The Anglicare CEO admitted that the NFP had been “overwhelmed” by the challenge of dealing with the pandemic and in hindsight he would have moved sick residents out of the home to hospitals sooner.

He told the Commission, directives around PPE were also conflicting.

The advice from Dr Branley was that all staff at Newmarch House should be wearing full PPE with all residents, he told the Commission.

But the advice from the NSW Health was that PPE should only be used for positive residents and suspected cases.

A note from Anglicare’s May 6 board meeting read to the Commission sums up concerns about how the emergency response was being handled at the 110-bed facility.

“Over the course of the outbreak there has been a frustrating level of dysfunction in the collaboration between Newmarch House Anglicare management and the numerous government departments, agency and hospital employees at both federal and state levels,” the note said.

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