The Royal Commission resumes Monday with hearings into COVID-19 aged care outbreaks – Grant Millard, Department of Health and Quality Commission to give evidence plus ‘small homes’ model

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The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety is set to hold two hearings in Sydney next week from 10 to 14 August 2020, with the first to examine the response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in aged care and the lessons that can be learnt for responding to future outbreaks and emergencies.

As we reported recently, the Commission will not specifically examine the response to the outbreaks in Victoria, but a number of other critical issues will be in the spotlight.

“Witnesses will be called to give evidence about the preparedness of the aged care sector for such an outbreak of disease, restrictions on visitation, and the impact of those restrictions on the health and wellbeing of residents and their families,” the Commission said in a statement.

“While important, these restrictions have had unintended, serious, and often tragic, consequences.”

Two witnesses whose fathers died during the COVID-19 pandemic will give evidence: Virginia Clarke, whose father died after contracting COVID-19 at Newmarch House, along with another witness, who will appear under the pseudonym UY, who says her father gave up wanting to live after visitor restrictions were introduced.

Merle Mitchell AM – who previously gave evidence to the Royal Commission at its Sydney hearings in May last year – will also describe her experiences living in an aged care facility in Melbourne during the pandemic with a focus on the impact on residents’ quality of life.

The management of outbreaks at Newmarch House and Dorothy Henderson Lodge will be investigated – the Commission reiterating that “the purpose of the inquiry is not to find fault or apportion blame”.

The impact of the pandemic on the aged care workforce will be highlighted as a key issue, with the Commissioners noting that both homes lost almost their entire workforce within days of the first positive case of COVID-19.

“This was not contemplated in the crisis or emergency plans of either provider,” they state.

Grant Millard, CEO of Anglican Community Services, is expected to give evidence about how distressing this was for residents, families and friends, and for the staff themselves.

The hearing will also look at the response to aged care workers who work in multiple facilities.

The hearing, due to finish on Thursday, will conclude with a panel of witnesses from the Department of Health and the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission (ACQSC) with particular focus to be given to whether there was a lack of clarity of the roles of the authorities in responding to COVID-19 outbreaks in aged care.

The Thursday afternoon and Friday will then be turned over to the issue of aged care accommodation including innovative accommodation models, ‘small home’ models and dementia-friendly design.

Our editor Lauren Broomham will be covering off the hearings daily in our subscriber-only newsletter The Daily COMMISSION.

To find out more about subscribing, click here.

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