Investigator grilled over fatal aged-care outbreak

A COVID-19 outbreak at Epping Gardens nursing home led to the deaths of 34 residents.

A COVID-19 outbreak at Epping Gardens nursing home led to the deaths of 34 residents. Photo: AAP

A magistrate has demanded to know why Victoria’s workplace regulator neglected to get a statement from an aged care home’s nursing boss following a fatal COVID-19 outbreak.

Epping Gardens’ director of nursing was “relentlessly criticised” by other staff following the 2020 outbreak, which led to 89 residents and 65 staff contracting the virus, Melbourne Magistrates Court was told.

Thirty-four residents ultimately died from the virus or related complications.

Victoria’s workplace regulator is prosecuting Heritage Care, the parent company of Epping Gardens.

WorkSafe informant Shane Grigg gave evidence in the matter on Thursday.

The investigator of more than two decades experience said his team of 10 investigators received statements from the facility’s general manager Alistair Cooray and other staff as part of their probe.

However, he conceded he did not seek statements from the aged care home’s director of nursing, nor its clinical services manager or quality assurance co-ordinator.

Magistrate Peter Reardon asked him repeatedly why he did not get a statement from the director of nursing, saying “virtually every witness” referred to her being in charge.

Mr Grigg told the court WorkSafe believed it had sufficient material from other staff to demand the facility produce documents about its processes.

Staff had an opportunity to provide WorkSafe with information when he sent out an email to prompt workers to come forward, he said.

“We already had a statement from Mr Cooray, who was the general manager,” Mr Grigg told the court.

Upon further questioning from the magistrate, the WorkSafe investigator said he didn’t know why his team didn’t get a statement from the director of nursing.

The magistrate reminded him 34 people had died.

“Don’t give me answers like, ‘I don’t know why’ – you do,” Mr Reardon said.

Mr Grigg conceded staff had relentlessly criticised the director of nursing following the COVID outbreak and some blamed her for it. “They didn’t like her”, he said.

The committal hearing has been told the director of nursing distributed guidelines about COVID practices to staff.

Mr Grigg also said he did not give University of Sydney infection prevention and diseases control clinical chair Ramon Z Shaban a copy of the aged care regulator’s assessment of the facility before the professor gave evidence in court.

He did not want to influence the professor’s opinion, he said.

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

The watchdog 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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