Virginia Clarke’s father has died after COVID-19 ravaged his nursing home.
Ron Farrell, 94, was one of 19 residents who died at Newmarch House in western Sydney in 2020.
On Tuesday, Clarke was one of the first family members to respond to the inquiry into what happened at Newmarch.
“There was no way Dad would survive, so they said they were going to make him comfortable,” Clarke said.
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It was the last time she spoke to her father. “I said ‘could I talk to him?’ and they held the phone to his ear, and he couldn’t talk, but I could talk to him.”
Clarke said goodbye.
Farrell had lived in the residential care facility since 2013. “He chose Newmarch. He wanted to go,” Clarke said.
The inquest is looking into all the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Newmarch residents.
“It was very important to me because there was so much confusion at the time, we weren’t allowed to see dad.
A lot of families couldn’t see their loved ones,” Clarke said.
Farrell was an RAAF vet. He first enjoyed living in Newmarch.
But when the outbreak hit, her family say they felt left in the dark.
“Dad didn’t know what was going on. No one spoke to him or said anything to him,” Clarke told the inquest.
“Just trying to get information, trying to find out his test results, was very frustrating because by this point they had moved all the phones to a central area and people didn’t know what was happening at the central office, so they said “we’ll get someone to contact you”, and that’s all I got.”
Clarke said she only found out by accident that her father had been diagnosed with COVID-19.
“Someone rang like a courtesy call to check on us, and she said ‘you don’t know?’ and I said ‘no, we’re still waiting to find out what’s going on with dad’.
She said ‘oh, he tested positive'”.
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Solicitor Assistant Coroner Simon Buchen SC told the inquest hearing that Newmarch House was not properly prepared for the scale of the COVID-19 outbreak.
He suggested the Anglicare Nursing Home was in the grip of ‘chaos and dysfunction when the epidemic hit’.
There were gaps in care, medication and the provision of meals, there was a level of disorganization and it was unclear who was responsible, he told the court.
The investigation is expected to last three weeks.
Deputy State Coroner Derek Lee said it will be a transparent, independent and full inquest.
Several experts will be called, as well as a number of family members of the victims.
Mary Van Put told the inquest she wanted her father removed from Newmarch House before he contracted COVID-19.
She said her family had been threatened with a fine or jail time for violating a public health order.
His father died 10 days later.
Farrell’s daughter is critical that many of the COVID-19 deaths at Newmarch are associated with underlying health conditions. She thinks her father would have had more time.
“All of those who died had underlying health conditions,” Clarke said.
“Unfortunately, when you walk into a care home it’s usually because you have an underlying medical condition.
“Dad was looking forward to his 95th birthday, he had already planned it, he was going to have a barbecue and I think, even with underlying health issues, if he hadn’t had COVID he would have survived a little bit longer.”
Clarke hopes lessons can be learned from the survey to try to better protect older people from future outbreaks.
“They said they had policies and procedures for a pandemic, but obviously (they) weren’t enough to protect people,” she said.
“So maybe two years later, learning from the mistakes that happened at Newmarch, they can come up with something to protect people.”
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