‘It’s heartbreaking, it’s demoralising’: regulator intervenes at Sydney aged care home over Covid infections

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More than 60 residents and staff were infected with Covid-19 at the Bupa Clemton Park facility

The national aged care regulator has intervened in a south-west Sydney nursing home at the centre of a Covid outbreak after finding it failed to meet quality standards relating to infection control and effective management of the outbreak.

On 6 January, Guardian Australia reported on a major outbreak at the Bupa Clemton Park facility that saw more than 60 residents and staff become infected with Covid-19, and one fully vaccinated person in palliative care die.

After the report the aged care quality and safety commission formally intervened, ordering the facility to stop new admissions for six months for failing to meet compliance standards of the Aged Care Act.

Related: ‘Genuinely diabolical’: in-home aged care struggling to meet critical needs under Omicron surge

The facility has also been ordered to appoint interim nursing management.

A letter provided to Guardian Australia and distributed to friends and relatives of residents on Wednesday confirmed regulatory action had been taken on 11 January in relation to the ongoing outbreak at the facility.

“Bupa Clemton Park will not receive payment from the Australian government for new consumers until 11 July 2022,” the letter from national director of aged care compliance, Elsy Brammesan said.

“Limiting the number of consumers who can be accepted by the service helps them focus on fixing the problems for current consumers.

“The ongoing operation of Bupa Clemton Park continues to be the responsibility of Bupa Aged Care Australia Pty Ltd, and the above action is not expected to change that arrangement.

“The commission will continue to visit the service to monitor their progress in fixing the issues against the quality standards.”

Dimitrios Kapeleris’s father is a resident of Bupa Clemton Park who acquired Covid-19 early in the outbreak.

While his father was asymptomatic during his infectious period, Kapeleris said he had since stopped eating and was highly agitated after a month confined to his room.

“It’s concerning that they still haven’t got things right this late into the outbreak,” Kapeleris said.

“Given 52 residents have been infected and upwards of 40 staff – wearing full PPE – there’s something amiss in infection control procedures, there’s something seriously wrong.”

Asked whether Kapeleris felt more comfortable with his father being housed at the nursing home now the commission has intervened, he said simply “no”.

“It raises questions,” he said.

“Why have they intervened? What aren’t they doing properly and why aren’t they doing it properly? We don’t have that information yet.

“It’s disheartening, it’s heartbreaking, it’s demoralising for us to watch our parents and knowing this is indefinite for them.”

Kapeleris previously warned staff about taking adequate precautions in relation to air filtration and ventilation, which were agreed to a week after Guardian Australia’s article was published.

“They finally got the filters to ensure clean indoor air but it took a lot of effort on my part to get them to move,” he said.

“I was just surprised they weren’t doing this of their own accord.”

Kapeleris said while communication also improved later in the outbreak, Covid-19 updates still missed “basic details, such as only reporting active cases not total cases, and not providing specific breakdowns of where cases were occurring.

“I don’t know in my dad’s section how many cases they have now,” Kapeleris said. “I ask for that information and still don’t get it.”

According to the latest update, about 26 residents had tested positive in his father’s section of 36 people. Overall, 51 residents had been infected with the virus, as well as 44 staff.

There were eight Covid-positive residents remaining in the facility with no active infections among employees.

“It makes you think ‘why are they holding on to this information?’,” he said.

“If they don’t have a handle on what they’re doing wrong and they’re not doing enough to address it, there’s no end in sight.”

A Bupa spokesperson said they were “disappointed” by the decision but the facility was cooperating with the commission to manage the outbreak.

Related: Australian government warned in November rapid antigen testing needed to protect aged care residents

The spokesperson said an external nurse adviser had been brought in to assist the facility for the next six months to address the commission’s concerns, and further education and training were required among all staff.

In addition, the nursing home is required to participate in regular teleconferences and provide reports to the commission as part of progress monitoring towards compliance and ending of the Covid-19 outbreak.

“Dealing with the pandemic over the past 21 months has created extraordinary difficulty and worry for our residents, their families, and our employees. We apologise to them for the additional distress this will cause,” the spokesperson said.

“We’re closely examining how the commission reached its decision.

“We’ll also work closely with the commission to understand how we can once again reach full compliance at Bupa Clemton Park, which is what our residents and their families rightly expect and deserve.”

Four weeks into isolating, Kapeleris said he would just be grateful for his father to be able to leave his room.

“To go to the outdoor terrace … my dad used to go out there with his friend and tend to the plants, and water them,” he said.

“Visiting will be great, but the first step is to get them into the fresh air, to interact with other residents. I’m worried about my dad … they’ve put him on liquid supplements. He’s lost three kilos in a week and a half.”

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