New measures at Newmarch: COVID tests for staff, daily calls for families

Anglicare’s Newmarch House has announced new measures to manage the major COVID-19 outbreak at the aged care facility in Sydney.

To date, 14 residents of the facility have died. Among the 63 infections linked to the home are 37 residents and 26 staff members.

The Family Support Program is a direct response to recent public complaints …

All Newmarch House staff will now be tested for COVID-19 at the commencement of each shift, announced NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard yesterday.

“While responsibility for aged care facilities rests with the Federal Government, NSW Health continues to provide specialist medical care and its infectious disease control expertise to Newmarch House,” says a NSW Health statement.

“The facility is also being supported by infection control specialists from the Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District and the Clinical Excellence Commission.”

Starting tomorrow, another COVID-19 measure at Newmarch House will see relatives of residents receiving a daily phone update from a registered nurse who is familiar with their loved one’s care and condition.

“Our primary focus has been and continues to be the care and wellbeing of our residents”, said Grant Millard, CEO Anglicare Sydney.

“At the same time, this situation is changing daily and we recognise we need to do more to ensure we are communicating effectively with families who are understandably distressed.

“The Family Support Program is designed to respond to the feedback from our families, ensuring they feel engaged and are in close contact with their loved ones.”

This new program is a direct response to recent public complaints – reported by the media – about phone calls going unanswered or unreturned by Newmarch House.

A family member, Louise Payne, said: “I sent a letter to Mr Millard earlier this week, on behalf of 94 people who are families and friends of Newmarch House residents.”

“It detailed ten concerns, to all of which Mr Millard has personally responded.

“On behalf of families and friends of Newmarch, I want to thank and acknowledge Mr Millard and his team for listening to our concerns and seeking our input.

“While we remain concerned about our loved ones and express our condolences to those who have lost loved ones, we know the Newmarch staff are doing their absolute best.”

Newmarch House also confirmed relatives can book in ‘Window Visits’ with their loved one, where access to seeing a resident through a window is possible.

In addition, residents who wish to have a mobile phone – and have been clinically assessed as able to use it – will continue to have one dedicated solely to their use. The phone number has been provided to the resident’s nominated representative.

The facility will also hold a second webinar, conducted by a infectious disease specialist, for family and friends of residents. Daily email updates will continue.

As the staff at Newmarch step up attempts to communicate with residents’ relatives, NSW Health is doing extensive testing to learn more about how the cluster outbreak began.

Initially believed to have originated solely from a single staffer who worked six shifts with mild symptoms, the department is now open to the possibility the virus was not only linked with the first known case.

“Sometimes, I’ve got to be honest, we don’t actually find that first case in.” – Kerry Chant

NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said that genomic sequencing had so far shown COVID-19 entered Newmarch House through linkages with “a number of other clusters” in the community,

“What we’re trying to do is identify the index case … and that requires going through all the medical records, re-interviewing staff, trying to find any other chains,” she said.

“Were there any other introductions at, or about, that time? We’re just trying to look if there were any missing links or missing chains.”

However, Dr Chant admitted such investigations “might be a dead end.”

“Sometimes, I’ve got to be honest, we don’t actually find that first case in,” she said.

Health Minister Hazzard also confirmed today that residents continue to have the choice of being cared for in the facility, or being treated in Nepean Hospital – depending on their Advanced Care Directive and their own personal wishes.

Mr Hazzard added that he didn’t want people playing “the blame game.” He defended the aged care staff who received criticism over how they used personal protective equipment (PPE).

He said that as much as “we’d like 100 per cent” control of infection, “it’s not a realistic situation in any human environment.”

On May 1, a draft version of a “nationally consistent visitation policy to residential aged care homes during the COVID-19 crisis” was released for public consultation.

Peak providers of aged care in Australia, and consumer advocacy organisations, have endorsed the draft code being made available for feedback.