Aged-care boss says staff trained before deadly COVID-19 outbreak

Former Epping Gardens aged care boss Alistair Cooray says staff took COVID-19 safety seriously.

Former Epping Gardens aged care boss Alistair Cooray says staff took COVID-19 safety seriously. Photo: AAP

The former boss of a Melbourne aged-care home insists the facility had processes to protect against a COVID-19 outbreak before the deaths of dozens of residents.

Alistair Cooray, who was general manager of Epping Gardens residential aged-care facility, was on Monday quizzed about the home’s procedures to fight against the virus before an outbreak in 2020.

Victoria’s workplace regulator is prosecuting Heritage Care, which is the parent company of Epping Gardens, after 89 residents and 65 staff contracted during the outbreak.

Thirty four residents died from the virus or related complications.

From March or April 2020, workers at the facility were directed to clean frequently touched surfaces twice a day, Mr Cooray told the Melbourne Magistrates Court.

The home’s director of nursing sought out more personal protective equipment when the facility’s usual supplier was running low, he said.

Training on COVID was rolled out to staff in the months leading up to the outbreak, although it wasn’t mandatory in the sense workers were prohibited from coming in if they hadn’t completed it, Mr Cooray said.

Prosecutors said the issue wasn’t whether the training was appropriate – it was that so few staff received it.

Only 35 staff completed part of the training related to hand hygiene and personal protective equipment before the July outbreak, prosecutors allege.

Mr Cooray said an entry assessment process designed to allow people into the facility only if necessary was “very important” to Epping Garden’s efforts to prevent an outbreak.

Visitors and staff had to be buzzed in by reception staff and couldn’t just “wander in and out” of the facility.

“From what I saw, (staff) took it seriously,” Mr Cooray told the committal hearing.

“They all followed the rules from what I saw at the time, while I was watching.”

He said workers were informed about updates to COVID-related guidelines.

Heritage Care was focused on ensuring all visitors and staff were assessed coming in from at least June 20, 2020, a month before the first confirmed COVID case, the court was told.

Once the facility went into an outbreak, everyone was in personal protective equipment, from reception staff to nurses, Mr Cooray said.

The aged care commission also audited the facility on its preparedness for a COVID outbreak in the lead-up to the deadly event.

Mr Cooray said the home had an outbreak management plan well before July 2020.

WorkSafe alleges Heritage Care failed to provide a maintain a working environment that was safe and without risks to health between March 13, 2020 and July 20, 2020.

The workcover authority alleges the company did so by failing to provide the necessary training to staff and failed to ensure residents were not exposed to health and safety risks.

The hearing continues.


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