PM, Premier blame game erupts
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been accused of bungling the response to Victoria's COVID-19 aged care outbreak after sending in junior nurses to fight the deadly virus.
It has prompted Victorian officials to warn of a "sh*tshow" in the sector after they were forced to break into medicine cabinets at a Melbourne nursing home.
A bitter blame game has erupted between the Morrison Government and the Andrews Government in Victoria over the coronavirus outbreak now laying siege to the state's nursing homes where 769 aged care residents and workers are infected.
The decision to suspend elective surgery to make room for aged care residents follows an exchange of text messages between Mr Morrison and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews commencing on Monday morning at 9.30am.
Yesterday, news.com.au revealed that the Prime Minister intervened to force Mr Andrews to cancel elective surgery in the state after he resisted the move.
But in a tit-for-tat briefing last night, Victorian officials said it was in fact the Morrison Government that had bungled the crisis and remained wholly responsible for the aged care sector, insisting it had acted within 24 hours of the first, formal request.
Horrified Victorian public health officials insist they raised the alarm over the Morrison Government's response last Wednesday when they found elderly residents at St Basil's nursing home in Melbourne sleeping in soiled beds, covered in faeces and without medication.
It followed the decision to stand down all staff at the COVID-19 infected nursing home, as federal officials took over and moved in to run the home, and the communication breakdown with families that followed.
The Greek Orthodox aged care home is now being investigated after the outbreak infected 86 residents and staff, leading to multiple deaths.
But it's not the first time concerns have been raised over the home with a family previously complaining last year that their elderly mother was found smeared in faeces and a "therapy cat" was filmed eating the residents food.
While the Federal Government sent in the private firm Aspen Medical last week, shocked Victorian officials told news.com.au public health workers who briefed them that night warned, "it's a sh*tshow" and complained some of the nurses sent in by the private contractors appointed by the Morrison Government were younger, graduate nurses.
One official claimed they had to break into a medicine cabinet after all the staff at the aged care home were stood down by the Morrison Government and ordered to isolate in the wake of the largest COVID-19 outbreak in Victorian aged care.
It's a version of events backed in part by a pathology worker "Julie", who asked to remain anonymous but told ABC radio there were chaotic scenes and language barriers when staff arrived to help the residents.
"We had no idea who they were. We can't send off random samples of people," she said.
"Staff didn't know who was meant to be in which bed."
The timeline outlined by Victorian officials begins with the Andrews Government imploring the Morrison Government to take action last week before it sent in private providers Aspen Medical.
In contrast, the Morrison Government insists that Australia's chief medical officer first urged Victoria to cancel more elective surgery last week and was shocked when it didn't happen over the weekend.
The Victorian Premier, who insists the Government wasn't asked to act until Sunday, expressed his frustration at the press conference where he repeatedly noted that aged care was the Morrison Government's responsibility.
"I've spoken with the Prime Minister. Ministers have been speaking. Officials have been speaking. It was a very long night, but this is a critical challenge,'' he said.
"The Commonwealth has asked for assistance. They've asked for certain things and that's exactly what they will get."
The Prime Minister said the situation remained "very concerning" and he had cut short a three-day visit to Queensland to devote himself to the aged care crisis.
"We have just over 80 facilities out of just over 430 in Victoria which have been affected. Not all severely, but some of those cases have been far more severe,'' he said.
Health Minister Greg Hunt confirmed the Victorian Public Health Unit instructed all staff at St Basil's to immediately isolate.
"Seventy-nine of 115 residents have now been transferred," Mr Hunt said.
"Our role is to make sure that those remaining residents are safe, and the advice that I had as of late last night and early this morning is that the conditions are stable. The staffing is led by a very experienced nurse unit manager."
But Greg Reeve, the chief executive of Heritage Care, which runs the home, said he had been pleading with health authorities to move residents into hospitals for days.
In a statement, St Basil's chairman Konstantin Kontis said the "extremely distressed" staff had done their best in a difficult situation.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) had only been used at the home since July 13, when the Morrison Government mandated the use of masks.
"If now, using 20/20 hindsight, it is alleged that this was too late, that is no fault of our own," Mr Kontis said.
Last week, Mr Hunt confirmed that federal officials had taken over St Basil's and that the federal chief nursing and midwifery officer Alison McMillan had personally attended the site.
"Significantly, we are taking steps in those particular areas where there are special needs. I know in particular that Alison has been at St. Basil's in the last 24 hours and the Commonwealth has moved in to support and assist,'' Mr Hunt said.
But Mr Andrews declared infection control so poor in some private nursing homes in the state that he would not let his mother be cared for in the aged care facilities.
"I would not let my mum be in some of these places, I just wouldn't,'' he said.
"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."
Originally published as PM, Premier blame game erupts