We know that COVID-19 tends to be a far more severe and life-threatening disease for elderly people. Residents of aged care facilities are particularly vulnerable because of their age and because they live in close proximity to the other residents. They are also in very close contact with the staff who are charged with looking after them.
We have heard terrible stories from overseas about elderly patients who had tested positive for COVID-19 being discharged from hospital back into care facilities while they were still infectious and bringing the virus with them, which of course passed to other vulnerable people living at the facility.
In NSW the case of Newmarch House has dominated the news. The outbreak appears to be linked with a care worker who went to work for six days with mild symptoms of COVID-19. The disease then spread to the residents and staff at the facility. At the time of writing, 14 residents have tragically lost their lives and there are 63 cases at the facility.
Relatives of the residents have publicly shared their concerns and frustrations about how the facility has responded to the unfolding crisis. It appears that communications have been lacking and questions are being raised as to whether residents who had contracted the virus were appropriately separated from the other residents and staff. Additionally, staff appeared to need additional help using the personal protective equipment.
Dr Kerry Chant, the NSW Health Chief Medical Officer, commented that it was concerning that consistent application of infection control practices at the facility have not been occurring.
Once the crisis has calmed it is likely that relative and residents will want to seek legal advice about possible avenues for redress.
What legal avenues can relatives take?
- Make a complaint with the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission. (www.agedcarequality.gov.au )
- Make a complaint with the Health Care Complaints Commission if there are concerns about the conduct of any of the health professionals working at the facility. (www.hccc.com.au)
- Investigate bringing a claim in negligence for the personal injury suffered by the aged care resident and/ or their relatives. If that person is deceased and close relatives have developed mental health problems associated with the death of their relative, they could consider making a claim for their own mental harm.
It is important to remember that time limits apply to claims for personal injury in NSW, a claim should be made within three years of the harm occurring. If you need further information, get in touch with our experienced and sympathetic team for advice.
For further reading about a case where we successfully sued an aged care facility and a General Practitioner for mental harm injuries associated with the death of a resident, read Francesca’s story here.