St Basil’s aged care facility charged with multiple safety breaches

Jul 05, 2022
The maximum penalty for each alleged offence is a fine of $1.49 million. Source: Getty Images.

Safety watchdog, WorkSafe Victoria, has charged St Basil’s Homes For The Aged in Fawkner with nine breaches of the Occupational Health and Safety Act following the deaths of 45 residents from Covid-19 in 2020.

WorkSafe alleges that after being notified that a worker had tested positive for Covid-19 the facility allegedly failed to require workers to wear personal protective equipment (PPE), train staff in the safe use of PPE and when it should be used, ensure that staff were competent in using PPE, and supervise the use of PPE.

The maximum penalty for each alleged offence is a fine of $1.49 million. The investigation took 23 months to complete and involved reviewing thousands of pages of documents and multiple witness interviews.

“A review of the Communicable Diseases Network Australia’s National Guidelines for the Prevention, Control and Public Health Management of COVID-19 Outbreaks in Residential Care Facilities in Australia, that included Guidelines on the use of personal protective equipment, that were published in March 2020 and updated in April 2020, provided relevant context and information that informed parts of the investigation,” WorkSafe said in a statement.

“The decision to prosecute has been made in accordance with WorkSafe’s General Prosecution Guidelines, which require WorkSafe to consider whether there is sufficient evidence to support a reasonable prospect of conviction and whether bringing a prosecution is in the public interest.”

The matter is listed for a hearing at the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on August 1.

Ninety-four residents and 94 staff members tested positive for Covid-19, with 45 residents subsequently dying from Covid-19 related complications.

Spiros Vasilakis’ whose mother, 81-year-old Maria, was among the 45 residents who died during the outbreak in 2020 told Nine News that the charges were “significant” but “at the same time, it draws up all those sad and bitter feelings.”

“Today is a day we found out that this facility would be held accountable,” he said.

However, Vasilakis said issuing fines to the aged care provider doesn’t go far enough.

“They’ve been charged, fantastic. But that the end result is a fine, that’s the hollow bit,” he said.

“Fifty lives can’t be a fine, one life can’t be a fine. I’m afraid that’s a criminal charge only punishable by a stint in prison.”

The coronial inquest into the handling of Covid-19, and the subsequent Covid-19 deaths at St Basil’s began in November 2021 and is currently ongoing.

The inquest heard allegations that residents were not being fed or provided with their medication during the 2020 outbreak. An evacuation of all residents for their safety was shut down and instead, all staff were replaced by relief staff, employed by Aspen Medical, a private contractor.

According to an email provided to the inquest from a Victorian Department of Health employee, very few of the replacement workers understood the systems established to look after residents.

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