Carer was allowed to work at St Basil’s despite family’s flu-like symptoms

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The carer who brought COVID-19 into St Basil’s aged care home in Fawkner was allowed to continue working despite reporting to management that her family was unwell with flu-like symptoms.

The personal care assistant, whose name has been suppressed by the Coroners Court, appeared on Tuesday before an inquest into deaths at the home.

The St Basil’s outbreak was among a cluster of aged care disasters in Victoria’s second wave in 2020.Credit:Justin McManus

“St Basil’s advised us, like, if we have symptoms then get tested and we need to isolate. If asymptomatic, you can come to work,” said the carer, referred to as “staff member A” at Tuesday’s hearing.

The court also heard from the manager of the carer, who agreed she had authorised “staff member A” to continue attending St Basil’s for shifts after her family became ill.

From late July last year until the end of August, 45 residents at St Basil’s died with coronavirus – more than a third of its residents.

The average age of these vulnerable residents was 85. It is Australia’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreak.

The disaster unfolded inside the Greek Orthodox Church-run home after “staff member A” worked at the facility while unknowingly COVID-19 positive, passing the virus on to others.

“Staff member A”, who emigrated to Australia from Nepal in 2016, was tested for COVID-19 at a Broadmeadows centre on July 5.

A Victoria Police brief prepared for the coroner shows she then worked multiple shifts before she got her positive coronavirus diagnosis.

“Staff member A” said she told her manager at St Basil’s, Jagmeet Nagra, that her family was unwell. Ms Nagra, who also appeared on Tuesday, was partly responsible for rostering at St Basil’s.

“Staff member A” sent a WhatsApp message to Ms Nagra to say her brother-in-law and husband were experiencing “flu-like symptoms”.

Ms Nagra immediately rang “staff member A” to ask whether she had any symptoms.

“Jagmeet straightaway called me and she [asked me] ‘Do you have any symptoms such as dry cough, runny nose, high temperature?’,” the woman told State Coroner John Cain.

“I told her I didn’t have any symptom … She said to me ‘So you don’t have symptoms, so you can as per our policy, you can come to the work’, she advised me.”

When “staff member A” was told of her family’s positive diagnosis for COVID-19 on July 8, she immediately contacted St Basil’s and was advised to leave work.

The following day, once “staff member A” got her own positive diagnosis, St Basil’s notified the state Department of Health. Twelve days later, with the outbreak spreading rapidly, Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton stood down all existing staff.

The chaos already unfolding within St Basil’s worsened once a federally funded “surge” workforce replaced the existing workers.

Private medical provider Aspen Medical, the company the Morrison government contracted to supply staff, could not secure enough experienced workers.

A nurse from the company has told police investigating the deaths that some care assistants “didn’t know how to shower residents, as they had been previously employed in community care to do housekeeping and shopping”.

“Staff member A” continues to work at St Basil’s where, in May this year, there were 44 residents.

The hearing continues.

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