This story was first published on June 9, 2020.
Earlier this month, the NSW Coroner’s Court announced it will investigate the deadly outbreak of Covid-19 at Newmarch House aged care facility in Sydney’s outer western suburbs, where 19 residents died from the virus.
This is good to hear. We’ll have an objective analysis, with scrupulous attention to detail, a detached umpire in the form of the coroner assigned and a set of recommendations which hopefully will help next time such a disease outbreak occurs.
Managing nursing homes in the Covid-19 pandemic proved to be a challenge across the world. Yet it seems there was a virus to deal with but also assumptions about the aged – some of which, dare Good Grief! suggest, were ageist.
To help put Australia’s performance into context, here is a roundup of Covid-19 deaths from several countries and the percentage of these deaths that occurred in aged care facilities.
We’ve picked this out of the latest report by the International Longterm Care Policy Network, (May 21), that can be found at: https://ltccovid.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Mortality-associated-with-COVID-21-May-6.pdf
Number of care home (nursing home) resident deaths as a percentage of all Covid-19 deaths.
- Austria – 41%
- Australia – 29%
- Canada – 82%
- Denmark – 34%
- France – 51%
- Germany – 37%
- Hong Kong – 0%
- Hungary – 24%
- Ireland – 62%
- Israel -32%
- Portugal – 40%
- Singapore – 11%
- South Korea – 34%
- Sweden – 49%
- England and Wales – 52%
- United States – 41%
This shows a wide variation in the Covid-19 deaths of people in nursing homes, from country to country. It also shows that the ratio of elderly people to die from Covid-19 compared to the rest of the population who died from Covid-19, is not inevitable, but rather, culturally determined. That is, it’s a function of priorities. That said the report noted that there are variations in reporting practices.
Here’s a few additional points we’ve gleaned from a review of world news sources.
- Of Canada’s very high Covid-19 nursing home death rate, which is shaping up to be one of the highest in the world compared to its considerably lower community death rate, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that Canada is “failing” its elderly. For more on this see: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/coronavirus-canada-long-term-care-nursing-homes/2020/05/18/01494ad4-947f-11ea-87a3-22d324235636_story.html
- A report in The Guardian says Prof Terry Lum of Hong Kong University told a UK parliamentary select committee that aged care facilities in Hong Kong avoided infection because any confirmed Covid-19 cases in hospitals were quarantined for up to three months. Also, all nursing homes had a trained infection controller and as a consequence of experiences with SARS in 2003, underwent emergency drills simulating an infection outbreak four times a year, so infection control becomes “a well-worn practice”. For more on this, go to: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/19/mps-hear-why-hong-kong-had-no-covid-19-care-home-deaths
- The English figure is put at 52 per cent, but it could also be lower, at 38 per cent. English leaders have been savagely criticised for their failure to accurately report nursing home Covid-19 deaths in national figures until only recently. For our earlier discussion on this, go to: https://good-grief.com.au/to-live-or-not-to-live-covid-19-and-the-elderly/
- Yesterday, June 8, The Irish Times reported that Ireland’s Covid-19 watchdog received 280 complaints about nursing homes and concerns over infection control, the way early infection was managed among staff and over poor communication. The Irish Times is behind a paywall, but this report by Simon Carswell, comes as criticism mounts against the Irish Government for the way Covid-19 was handled in nursing homes.
- The US figures are made up of very high concentrations from New York. There, a piece in the Wall Street Journal, June 2, noted that: “the New York State Department of Health ordered the transfer of some 4,300 Covid-19 patients from hospitals to nursing homes. This exposed the oldest, frailest and most vulnerable to the virus.” The piece discussing American deaths, by Robert Rosenkranz, can be found at: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-measure-of-new-yorks-coronavirus-devastation-11591140254
- We have previously discussed Sweden’s approach to Covid-19 at https://good-grief.com.au/swedens-covid-19-story-compared-to-australias/ However, it was reported on June 4 in the Australian Financial Review that Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s state epidemiologist, largely responsible for Sweden’s approach, “told a local broadcaster he would have adopted a different model to contain the virus at its onset, had he known then what he knows now.” This report can be found at: https://www.afr.com/world/europe/sweden-won-t-ditch-covid-strategy-despite-admitting-errors-20200604-p54zmo