Grim evidence at inquest hearing into COVID-19 deaths at Greek Orthodox Church’s St Basil’s Homes for the Aged in Melbourne

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The initial inquest hearing into the July 2020 COVID-19 outbreak at the Greek Orthodox Church’s St Basil’s Homes for the Aged in Fawkner, Melbourne. Of 117 people who lived at the home, in July last year 50 of them died – 45 attributed to COVID-19.

“The numbers alone don’t begin to convey the trauma and enormous impact on families,” Peter Rozen, counsel assisting, told the directions hearing in Melbourne on Tuesday.

Mr Rozen, who was part of the Aged Care Royal Commission’s Senior Counsel, detailed how the first infected St Basil’s staff member, whose family had “sore throats”, worked two shifts without protective equipment after getting tested for COVID-19 on 5 July.

That staff member returned a positive test on 9 July. Victoria’s Department of Health was informed on 13 July. The Federal Government’s Department of Health was informed on 18 July.

By 17 July, a further seven staff and 11 residents were infected with COVID-19.

Victorian Coroner John Cain told the court he was “acutely aware” that families were looking for an explanation and understanding into what happened and why.

He acknowledged the grief and loss of families, noting the trauma of not only losing a loved one, but of being cut off from them during their time of need.

“It’s hard to imagine a more difficult and disastrous situation for you,” he said.

As we reported here, some families have launched a class action against the home for alleged breaches of duty of care.

The matter has been listed for a further directions hearing in the Coroner’s Court on 15 September. A four-week hearing is expected to begin on 15 November.

St Basil’s have provided us with this statement in response to the inquest hearing:

St Basil’s statement in response to the Coroner’s first directions hearing
18 August 2021

St Basil’s looks forward to having the opportunity to be involved in the inquest being conducted by the State Coroner, Judge John Cain to determine how the tragic events of last July and August transpired.

As described by counsel assisting the Coroner, Peter Rozen QC at the directions hearing on Wednesday 18 August, the circumstances relating to the outbreak were complex. There were a number of parties involved in dealing with the outbreak including St Basil’s management, State and Federal Government agencies and Aspen Medical who provided the surge team which replaced St Basil’s staff at the peak of the outbreak.

We are greatly pained by the tragic loss of life at our home and sincerely mourn those who have passed away.

Father Evmenios Vasilopoulos
Chair
St Basil’s Homes for the Aged in Victoria

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