The NSW government must promise to automatically hospitalise coronavirus-infected aged care residents to avoid the fatal outbreaks seen in Victorian facilities, aged care providers say.
In Victoria, the number of deaths linked to aged care homes has climbed to more than 170, while nationally more than 68 per cent of all COVID-19 deaths to date relate to people in residential aged care.
Among those numbers are 23 people who died in outbreaks in two NSW aged care homes earlier this year.
NSW aged care providers say deadly outbreaks will happen again if there is a second wave unless the state government guarantees the hospitalisation of aged care residents who test positive to the virus.
“Aged care homes are homes, not hospitals,” a spokesman for Uniting NSW.ACT told AAP in a statement.
“The vast majority of aged care providers agree – and Uniting NSW.ACT residents and their families expect – that aged care residents who test positive to COVID-19 should be transferred to hospital for treatment.”
The group, which has about 5500 residents in its care in 72 aged care homes across NSW and the ACT, says managing outbreaks within the homes is costly and inefficient.
It argues automatic hospitalisation of positive cases would break the chain of infection within aged care homes, giving facilities time to ensure adequate staffing.
“While there is still adequate hospital capacity in NSW and the ACT, why wouldn’t we transfer our most vulnerable people to hospital if they contract the virus?” the spokesman said.
Mission Australia chief executive James Toomey says the three aged care homes run by his organisation have infection prevention and control measures in place, but that only goes so far.
“These residential facilities are simply not funded nor resourced to be able to operate like a hospital,” he said in a statement.
They are equipped to deal with the flu and gastro, not unprecedented worldwide pandemics, Aged and Community Services Australia chief executive Patricia Sparrow told AAP.
The peak body for non-profit aged care providers has been pushing for each state to commit to automatic hospitalisation for months.
Ms Sparrow says automatic hospitalisation would also go a long way towards alleviating the fears of other vulnerable residents in the home.
“People are frightened and so it does give people an assurance that everything that can be done is being done,” she said.
It comes as a royal commission on Monday heard there was a “standoff” between federal and NSW officials early in the outbreak at Sydney’s Newmarch House about whether virus-positive residents should be hospitalised.
Of 37 positive residents, two were transferred to hospital where one died. The other 16 fatalities occurred at the nursing home.
Comparatively, at Dorothy Henderson Lodge where 13 of the 16 positive cases were sent to hospital, six residents died.
“That speaks for itself really, doesn’t it,” Ms Sparrow said.
“Our position is that it’s a no brainer.
“There are two states, South Australia and Queensland, which have committed to it, and we really don’t understand why other states wouldn’t.”
Australian Associated Press