Elderly residents of a Victorian aged care home have been confined to their rooms for more than two months without visitors or trips outside for fresh air, which family members say is distressing and leading to a decline in their health.
Meg Mappin said her 98-year-old mother, a resident of Mercy Place in Parkville, and all other residents of the home have been “totally confined to their rooms for 66 days with no idea when they may be able to move out of their rooms again”.
“I have seen my mother deteriorate over this time,” Mappin told Guardian Australia. “She is now unable to stand or walk, is on moist food, and we have noticed a dramatic worsening of her dementia during phone and Skype calls.”
Mercy Place experienced a serious Covid-19 outbreak early in Victoria’s second wave with the first case in the home identified on 21 June. Since then, 57 residents have tested positive and 20 have died.
Mappin said she understood why it was essential for the home to contain the virus and to ban visitors. But months since the first case had been identified and with the outbreak now under control, she said she could not understand why plans weren’t in place to allow Covid-free residents to see each other, or to allow residents time outside. She and three other people with family members in the home together complained to the executive team of the home, asking what plans were being made to allow residents out of their rooms.
“We were told that it was out of Mercy Place’s hands because they were acting on the directions from the department of health and human services,” Mappin said. “This incarceration seems to have no defined end date. We would like to see residents able to move out of their rooms in some form as soon as possible.”
Guardian Australia has contacted the department of health and human services for comment.
A spokeswoman for Mercy Care said the health and safety of residents and staff was always the priority.
“In July, the Victorian government introduced strict visitor restrictions into all residential aged care homes to protect residents from coronavirus,” she said. “If a home is then subject to a coronavirus outbreak, those requirements become even stricter, and residents have to remain in their rooms.”
“Throughout our home’s outbreak period, we have been working with health authorities to determine if we can safely manage activities with our residents that would ordinarily fall outside of those strict outbreak restrictions – things like window visits and courtyard excursions, and even performers in our courtyard. The risk factors of each of these requests are assessed by the Department of Health and Human Services to determine whether we are able to implement them.”
The spokeswoman said recently residents in rooms on the home’s ground floor who had been cleared of coronavirus after having previously tested positive could access the garden courtyard. But the health department had told the home it was unsafe for residents on the first floor, who do not have Covid-19, to do the same. The spokeswoman said the home was still working with the department to get permission for level 1 residents to use a balcony on that floor.
“Our team is working incredibly hard to keep residents moving and engaged during this difficult period of confinement,” she said.
Mappin said because her mother was on the first floor of the facility she could not even see her through a window. Her mother had begun talking about being “bossed around” and during hallucinations talked about going on trips on the train to Albury-Wodonga.
“I know [dementia] is a part of the decline and I accept that, but this isolation is definitely also having an impact. Her language definitely reflects that she feels has no control and no choice about anything at all,” Mappin said.
Her mother has so far been tested for Covid some 16 times and has always tested negative. For the past three tests, all of the residents returned negative results.
“I’m in touch with three other people with family in the home and we all feel like there is no plan to get people out of their rooms even with the outbreak coming to a close,” Mappin said. “It all just feels really brutal. I feel very helpless in all of this and it’s how we all feel. They’re incarcerated. It’s an emotive word, but it’s true. They’re being held against their will with an indefinite exit date. I am scared my mum could die this year without a proper connection for months to her family. This is just a terrible way for the elderly to finish their lives.”
Sarah Russell, a public health researcher and aged care advocate, said she was appalled to hear of the situation at Mercy Care. She said it was an unintended consequence when Covid-19 patients were immediately isolated either to their own rooms with an ensuite or, if this was not possible, to one section of the home away from non-positive residents.
“Taking away an older person’s liberty by confining them to their rooms is profoundly damaging to their mental and physical wellbeing,” Russell said.
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