Doctors at the hospital sent in to support Melbourne aged care homes heavily infected with coronavirus report they are faced with distressing scenes daily.
State and Commonwealth governments have asked major Melbourne hospitals to take control of poorly understaffed aged care facilities with rampant COVID-19 infections, or help them do so. Now they operate as a ‘blended’ team with the original aged care staff.
Since late June Western Health, which operates Footscray and Sunshine Hospitals, has been bringing in specialist medical teams to support distressed nursing homes. Before COVID, its senior in-patient care programme had five employees; it has now expanded into a team of 45 senior care nurses and the geriatricians.
It has been named to take over operating two of the hardest hit facilities in recent days, as it aims to help with more than 20 other aged care homes for profit and not-for-profit purposes.
One facility entered by geriatrist Dr. Jesse Zanker and his colleagues had nearly a majority of its more than 100 COVID-19-infected residents.
Dr. Zanker told residents and their families every day at 7.30 that he had to share bad news, including several palliative or “end of life” conversations.
“The night has fallen and unfortunately, so has our faith in the world,” Dr Zanker said after one gruelling shift.
“It’s been a pretty rough night here at the facility we’re just leaving, having had multiple palliative conversations and tearful nurses — having received no handover — coming into patients or residents that are approaching end of life without supports in place.”
He said these talks, in which he uses terms like “dying” and “death,” also brought relief to families who have found it difficult to get some details about the health of their loved ones up to that level.
Dr Zanker ‘s colleague, professional nurse specialist Shane Durance, said the team was doing their “absolute best,” but they stepped blindly into the situation.
“[The doctors and nurses] are new to the facilities, most of them are new to working with aged care residents and most of them are new to each other,” Mr Durance said.
“They’re not familiar with the physical layout, the equipment, or the systems in place to support patients and they’re not familiar with the patients’ histories.”
Mr Durance has worked in aged care for more than 40 years and said staff could not do any more to help patients than they were currently doing.
“Tonight, I worked with three nurses who were all in tears at one stage or another, including myself, basically because they want to be able to do more and can’t, in the context of current circumstances in the world of COVID and the resources and the level of support that’s available to them,” he said.
“I know they’re going to go home tonight and think they haven’t done enough. I’ve been working since 1976, and I can tell you that they’ve done everything they can.”
Dr Zanker agreed, saying doctors and nurses are hamstrung by factors outside their control.
“At times, we’re significantly distressed and exasperated at the circumstances in which we’ve found ourselves, where we are unable to provide the optimal care that we sought for a multitude of reasons.”