Government blamed for 'heartbreaking' aged care lockdown failures

A Current Affair, 13 January 2022

Protecting Australia's most vulnerable has been at the core of the COVID-19 pandemic, but families of aged care residents claim the government is failing them.

Elderly people are being kept in perpetual lockdown as Omicron cases surge and workers are struggling to cope.

"The patients and the residents are confined to their rooms. No exercise, no fresh air, if they go in the corridor they're chased back into their rooms," Jan Beale told A Current Affair.

She has been forced to communicate with her husband of 50 years through the window.

Her 74-year-old husband, Alan, has Parkinson's and dementia and has been in lockdown at his nursing home because of COVID-19 cases.

"Nothing's changed in the public health unit rules since COVID first hit the country two years ago — and yet so much has changed," Ms Beale said.

Mr and Ms Beale are both fully vaccinated and she's happy to get tested, but she said there's been no wiggle room.

"He is a prisoner," Ms Beale said of her husband.

"They've been abandoned they're not allowed to do anything."

Zia Cole's mother, Wendy, has dementia and is also in an aged care facility battling an outbreak.

Last week, the only way the family could visit was from afar outside, but the forced distance had heartbreaking consequences.

"She came to the windows of love and her face just lit up … but very quickly became agitated," Zia said.

"She got up very abruptly and said, 'I'm coming' and almost ran through the doorway so that she could be at the fence where we were and that's where she tripped and fell and broke her hip. It was very distressing to see her through the fence.

"We're supposedly protecting the old people by locking them down, but actually my sense is there's a lot more destructive outcomes happening."

It was Catherine Mills' mother-in-law's 80th birthday on Tuesday, but Brenda spent it alone in lockdown in her aged care home.

Catherine and her daughter, Kimberley, said they discovered they weren't even allowed to send her flowers, when a florist was turned away.

"We couldn't come and see her, we couldn't get presents to her, we couldn't get cards to her," Catherine said.

"It was heartbreaking," Kimberley said.

Kimberley said she's now worried they won't get another chance to see her grandmother.

The families who spoke to A Current Affair said they're not taking aim at the aged care homes looking after their loved ones.

Instead they said it's strict 14-day isolation rules imposed by governments for residents exposed to the virus that need to end, because they're cruel and unsustainable.

"It's hard to see that they're dying by themselves without family. It does affect us a lot and emotionally I don't know how I'm coping, but I need to make sure that I go forward for the rest of my residents," north west Sydney aged care worker Tatsuya said.

The aged care worker said the strict isolation rules and widespread COVID-19 cases are causing a worker shortage, with 20 per cent of staff in isolation.

"It is really exhausting working like 16 hours and some of my colleagues also work for 24 hours," Tatsuya said.

Tatsuya said the financial burden is serious too, with casual workers in isolation not getting paid.

"One of my colleagues, she's a single mother of three, and she's isolating now and she's getting nothing. And she was crying on the phone like 'how am I going to feed my children'?" the aged care worker said.

Health Services Union president Gerard Hayes said there are active outbreaks at hundreds of aged care facilities across the country and workers are at breaking point.

"One person looking after 40 people, now how can you do that?" he asked.

"These people living in aged care aren't going to be there for 10 years. This is the rest of their life."