Newmarch COVID outbreak a ‘horror movie’

A nurse says working in Newmarch House during a COVID-19 outbreak was like being in a horror movie,

A nurse says working in Newmarch House during a COVID-19 outbreak was like being in a horror movie, Photo: AAP

Walking along the dark corridors of Sydney’s Newmarch House hearing cries for help from residents was like being in a horror movie, an inquest has been told.

Giving evidence about her experience during a COVID outbreak in April and May 2020, nurse Lorena Bestrin said she was overwhelmed with work amid an influx of agency staff unfamiliar with the Anglicare-run home or its residents.

At night, she would walk the aged-care facility’s dimly lit corridors hearing residents calling for help out of their rooms.

“I’d just walk and I was shocked because it felt like a horror movie … Everyone would say ‘help, help, help’ and I can still picture them,” she said through tears on Monday.

Currently a nursing consultant, Ms Bestrin was part of the surge workforce brought into Newmarch after most regular staff either came down with the virus or were self-isolating.

During the April-May outbreak at home in Kingswood, in western Sydney, 37 out of 97 residents tested positive with 19 dying. A further 34 staff members also caught the disease.

The inquest focuses on Anglicare’s Hospital in the Home program, where residents with COVID were treated on-site rather than being sent to nearby hospitals.

In her time as a care manager at Newmarch from April 15 to May 24, Ms Bestrin said the environment was like a war zone with an army of agency staff coming in but with no systems to direct what they should do.

While she did not want to point the blame at anyone, she described her experience there as terrible.

“When I was there, I just didn’t want to go anymore because I would cry every day on my way to work. But I thought if I quit it, I wasn’t going to help the situation,” she told Lidcombe Coroners Court.

Before the outbreak, Anglicare provided a three-and-a-half hour training session that covered infection control and personal protection equipment. However, Ms Bestrin said she walked away from the session having learned little.

The inquest heard nurses were allowed into the facility for at least the first week of the outbreak without temperature checks or a required COVID-negative result.

Ms Bestrin was also given no access to the centre’s iCare patient management platform for the first few days she worked there. She eventually organised on her own to get a password.

Things at Newmarch got better once Baptist Care took over the centre’s management on April 24, she said.

“As soon as they came, we had a whole army of people and things improved. There was more direction.”

There have been six past reviews into the Newmarch outbreak since June 2020, including a hearing held during the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.

Shine Lawyers is also investigating a class action against Anglicare on behalf of family members of those who died because of alleged mismanagement at Newmarch.

The inquest in front of Deputy State Coroner Derek Lee continues.


Topics: COVID-19
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