How did Victoria's aged care coronavirus crisis get so bad and what’s being done to fix it?

One in 10 aged care facilities in Victoria have seen positive coronavirus cases.

A resident is taken away in an ambulance from Epping Gardens Aged Care Facility in Epping, Melbourne, Tuesday, July 28, 2020.

A resident is taken away in an ambulance from Epping Gardens Aged Care Facility in Epping, Melbourne, Tuesday, July 28, 2020. Source: AAP

Australia's aged care sector is again under the microscope as authorities scramble to contain coronavirus outbreaks across 87 Victorian facilities.

, there were 804 active cases of COVID-19 connected to Victoria's aged care sector, both staff and residents, and 46 deaths.

The crisis has prompted , Prime Minister Scott Morrison to and a war of words between state and federal authorities.

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But how did the situation deteriorate so quickly?

First outbreaks emerge

The first cases in Victorian aged care homes were diagnosed just over a week into July.

On 7 July the state recorded 191 new coronavirus cases. A staff member employed by Assisi Aged Care in the Melbourne suburb of Rosanna tested positive but had not worked while infectious.

The following day, five new cases were linked to aged care, with at least one worker deemed infectious when they attended the BaptCare Orchards Community in Doncaster.

As the case numbers and community transmission accelerated in the state, scores of new cases were linked to aged care homes across metropolitan Melbourne, with fears low-paid staff were working while sick.



As of Wednesday, the worst outbreaks in the state were at the Estia Health facility in Ardeer (91 cases), St Basil’s Home for the Aged in Fawkner (89) and Epping Gardens Aged Care in Epping (86).

Health Minister Jenny Mikakos became emotional on Tuesday as she discussed the cluster at St Basil's, which houses a large number of Greek residents. 

The son of a now-deceased St Basil's resident has also accused the facility of insensitivity.

Federal health department secretary Brendan Murphy said on Wednesday aged care facilities themselves should not shoulder too much blame for the outbreaks, as the sector cannot be completely protected from the high levels of community transmission.

"It is not the fault that those facilities have outbreaks," he said. "We know that residents and families have often observed breaches ... These incursions of this virus into these facilities are essentially unavoidable."

Authorities would look into reported breaches “in the retrospective analysis” of the outbreaks, he added.

Signage is seen at Estia Health Aged Care facility in Ardeer, Melbourne, Wednesday, July 29, 2020
Signage is seen at Estia Health Aged Care facility in Ardeer, Melbourne, Wednesday, July 29, 2020 Source: AAP


Who's in charge?

Victoria is responsible for overseeing some state-run aged care facilities while the federal government is in charge of regulating private operators. 

Most of the worst-hit facilities in Victoria are privately operated by either faith-based groups, not-for-profit organisations or for-profit companies, according to the state's Department of Health and Human Services.

With emotions running high on Tuesday, fractures between federal ministers and Mr Andrews appeared to surface, with the Victorian premier saying he had lost faith in some aged care operators.

"I cannot stand here and tell you that I have confidence that staff and management across a number of private sector aged care facilities are able to provide the care that is appropriate to keep their residents safe,” he said.

“Some of the stories we’ve seen are unacceptable, and I wouldn’t want my mum in some of those places.”

More coronavirus deaths of aged care residents are expected in coming days as Victoria's troubling infection rates continue to spike.
More coronavirus deaths of aged care residents are expected in coming days as Victoria's troubling infection rates continue to spike. Source: AAP


Those comments quickly sparked backlash from federal cabinet members Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck and Health Minister Greg Hunt.

"The idea that our carers, that our nurses are not providing that care is, I think, a dangerous statement to make," Mr Hunt said.

On Wednesday, Mr Morrison and Mr Andrews both downplayed the perceived breakdown in relations. 

"The only argument, fight that matters is the fight against this deadly virus. That's what I am focused on," Mr Andrews said.

Sydney warnings

The current outbreak in Melbourne's aged care system follows nursing home clusters earlier in the year at the Dorothy Henderson Lodge and, the latter of which has led to 19 deaths.

Some have accused authorities of not learning the lessons from the Sydney aged care saga, but Mr Morrison said the widespread community transmission, particularly among staff, made the Victorian outbreaks different.

"There was not broad-based community transmission that led to what occurred in Newmarch," he said on Wednesday.

Mr Hunt said on Tuesday while authorities thought an outbreak was possible, it would never have been entirely preventable.

“When there are enormous numbers of [the] workforce who are not just ill, but as a consequence, for every worker who is ill there are huge numbers that are isolating, then that has an impact on the Victorian system,” he said.

Professor Murphy said the report on the outbreak at Newmarch House has not been completed yet, and the report on the Dorothy Henderson Lodge is currently before the royal commission into aged care.

ADF staff arrive at Epping Gardens Aged Care Facility in Epping, Melbourne, Tuesday, July 28, 2020
ADF staff arrive at Epping Gardens Aged Care Facility in Epping, Melbourne, Tuesday, July 28, 2020 Source: AAP


What's being done to try and fix Victoria's crisis?

A few things.

It was announced on Saturday the Victorian and Commonwealth governments were setting up an , managed by Emergency Management Australia, Emergency Management Victoria and VicHealth.

Additional limits on access to Victorian aged care facilities have been in place since last Wednesday, with face coverings mandatory and only single visitors allowed.

Five million medical masks and 500,000 reusable face shields have been allocated to the sector from the national medical stockpile, while health workers are also being brought in from interstate, Australian Medical Assistance Teams reserves and the Australian Defence Force to bolster the sector's workforce.

Aged & Community Services Australia, the peak body for non-profit aged care providers, has welcomed the transfers, but said they were not a preventative measure.

“In order to prevent mass outbreaks as we've seen over the last week, we need hospitalisation to happen as soon as someone tests positive," ACSA CEO Patricia Sparrow said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Aged care workers are some of the most passionate and hard-working people in the wider health system - but residential aged care simply isn’t funded or resourced to be able to operate like a hospital."

Residents in metropolitan Melbourne are subject to stay-at-home orders and can only leave home for essential work, study, exercise or care responsibilities. It is also mandatory to wear masks in public.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.

If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

News and information is available in 63 languages at

Additional reporting by AAP.


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6 min read
Published 29 July 2020 at 4:22pm
By Naveen Razik, Evan Young