Aged-care visitors pose flu risk

(Australian Associated Press)


Aged care home staff and visitors should be part of a multi-pronged vaccination program following flu deaths at two facilities in two states, the Victorian government says.

The recommendation from Health Minister Jill Hennessy follows a federal government review that found only one-third of workers at two regional aged care homes in Victoria and Tasmania received shots before a deadly outbreak killed 16 residents.

“The great challenge of course is not just around staff being vaccinated – we’ve got reasonable high vaccination rates amongst staff right across the health system – it is also around people that visit,” Ms Hennessy told reporters on Tuesday.

“We’ve got to have a multi-pronged approach to try and do much better when it comes to protecting the elderly.”

A horror 2017 flu season claimed the lives of 121 aged care residents in Victoria, while Tasmania reported 21 deaths across its nursing homes.

The federal government review released on Monday identified poor management at Wangaratta’s St John’s Retirement Village and Uniting AgeWell Strathdevon in Tasmania during the influenza outbreak in August and September.

Ten residents from St John’s died and six at the Strathdevon facility.

The federal government has described the outbreaks as “unacceptable” and there have been calls for compulsory flu shots for staff at aged care facilities.

The audit by Australian Aged Care Quality Agency found 27 of 76 staff at Uniting AgeWell Strathdevon were vaccinated. During the outbreak, 29 staff and 31 residents contracted the flu.

The review also found management did not consistently follow infection control guidelines and junior staff did not know what to do in the absence of senior staff who contracted the illness.

Staff at the Strathdevon facility had insufficient personal protective equipment for infection control.

Chief executive Andrew Kinnersly apologised unreservedly for the home’s failure to meet expectations of the agency, residents and their families.

He also said Strathdevon had boosted resources and training and he expected it would return to “full compliance” standards in coming weeks.

At St John’s Retirement Village, management failed to identify and contain the influenza outbreak, the audit found.

Several residents who contracted influenza did not receive appropriate clinical care and three who died from the flu were not referred to a medical officer when they first became sick.

St John’s said the manager in charge of the facility during the outbreak had resigned before being referred to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Authority.

St John’s chairman Bishop John Parkes acknowledged “serious failings” during the flu outbreak but defended staff performance.


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