The ABC’s Anne Connolly delivers on promise of ‘bad news’ on COVID-19 in aged care with 7.30 Report story

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As reported in Saturday’s edition, the ABC journalist (pictured below) had emailed ABC subscribers asking for their experience on how the coronavirus is affecting the experience of elderly Australians, their families, and staff in the aged care system.

Her first report – written with John Stewart from the ABC Investigations’ team – aired on the national broadcaster’s 7.30 Program last night.

You can watch the program here or read the accompanying story here.

As expected, it is a negative look at the current lockdowns that many providers have put in place in response to the coronavirus pandemic in an effort to protect residents.

The story features actress Merridy Eastman, whose 93-year-old mother Berenice lives in Bupa’s South Hobart aged care home and who was one of the key witnesses during the Royal Commission into Aged Care’s Hobart hearings on leadership and governance in Hobart last November and begins:

“Merridy Eastman received a disturbing text message from her mother’s nursing home in Hobart last Friday.”

“’Dear relatives and friends, we have made the difficult decision to stop visits to Bupa care homes starting 5:00pm today. This is to protect against the growing risk of COVID-19 infection’.”

“The text arrived at 12:13pm.

“’It sent a chill down my spine,” Ms Eastman told 7.30.’”

The rest of the story continues in a similar vein, mentioning some of the private operators who have introduced full lockdowns while ignoring the fact that many smaller and Not For Profit operators have taken similar action.

The report also dwells on the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission’s decision to move to telephone monitoring of providers during the pandemic, drafting in another Royal Commission witness Dr Joseph Ibrahim from Monash University to comment.

“The danger with an absolute and complete lockout, with no oversight, with no external observer, is the possibility that people will resort to excess extraordinary levels of chemical and physical restraint, that the residents won’t get the care that they need,” he says.

He does say a lockdown is essential – “because older people are at the highest risk of dying,” he said.

“But a lockdown that is so strict that you never see anyone or that there are no exceptions is not what we want. We need a humane lockdown.”

Those in the sector will know that residents are seeing others – the staff, many of whom are putting in extra hours to spend time with residents and organise technology so residents can communicate with families and friends.

Hidden within the story is also a line that many families who contacted the ABC were supportive of the move to protect their relatives from the deadly virus.

Will that be noticed by the average reader, however?

The balancing discussion, not put forward in the reporting, is the risk of infection (and death) for the other residents to cater to the resident/family that desires visiting rights. What do you say to a family who loses a parent as a result of one such visit? And what of the duty of care to staff?

During what is an extraordinary situation for residents, families, staff, providers and the sector as a whole, is this fair reporting?

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