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Open Letter from CEO Sandra Hills OAM

7th September 2020

To our Benetas Community

I wanted to take this opportunity to provide you with an update on the outbreak that we have been managing at our St George’s aged care home in Altona Meadows.

We have been incredibly saddened by the occurrences since the first confirmed case on July 9, just two months ago which also seems like a lifetime ago. We have also been extremely humbled by the community spirit, amazingly resilient employees and external support during this time.

Thankfully, we are now seeing the transmission of the virus slowing with the two most recent test results of all residents and employees returning negative.

Our sincere thoughts and condolences go out to everyone who has been affected, and in particular those who have lost their loved ones to this virus during this time. We have sadly had a number of residents pass due to the virus at the home and each of them will be sorely missed.

We have learnt many things over the two month period. One is the extent of contagion of the virus. We now know that it requires incredible vigilance in the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) measures.

We have conducted over 100 training session with employees on the effective use of PPE and IPC, equating to nearly three sessions each day which occurred at every shift changeover. This is the kind of diligence required to manage the outbreak.

Thankfully we were able to move residents that had contracted the virus to a specific area of the home which meant that two areas of the home remained unaffected. This was an incredible advantage given that St Georges is a large home.

Our residents have been amazing during this time.

They have unfortunately been confined to their rooms throughout the outbreak as directed by the Department of Health and Human Services. While this has been extremely challenging for them, they remain in good spirits and are hopeful that the coming days means they can, for the first time in two months, venture out of their rooms. We are all so looking forward to this day.

We have been doing all we can to keep then connected and engaged during this time by way of music therapy, art therapy, game time and the important video chats with loved ones.

Our community has also been outstanding. We have received, cupcakes, chocolates, flowers, free yoga classes from representatives of our families, plus support from the local Rotary club with slabs of soft drinks as well as mental health and wellbeing support from the local Hobsons Bay Council. This is in addition to many notes and cards of support and appreciation. It would have been a much more difficult time for the St George’s team without their ongoing words and gestures of encouragement.

In particular, I want to acknowledge the outstanding resilience, dedication and compassion of each and every one of our employees.

The last two months have been relentless and the team has shown amazing dedication and commitment to do whatever it takes to contain the virus and protect those in our care.

Externally, we have had numerous comprehensive reviews at different stages on how we are managing the outbreak at the home by agencies including AUSMAT, the Commonwealth Aspen Medical, the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services Infection Control Squad and the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre.

This included daily contact with the Commonwealth Department of Health and meetings every second day with the Commonwealth Department of Health, Department of Health and Human Services and the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission.

Further to this, we commissioned two independent reviews into our infection prevention and control measures to ensure we were doing absolutely everything we could to reduce the spread of the virus. All of these have returned positive feedback with minor areas for improvement which the team immediately implemented.

We are extremely appreciative of the additional staff provided by the Government’s Surge Workforce which included people from both Tasmania and Queensland. This was paramount in enabling us to have greater coverage in our home, particularly in the area in which our residents with Covid-19 are residing, to ensure their care needs are met as much as possible in these trying circumstances.

As we continue to plan for our recovery, 80 percent of employees who contracted Covid-19 have now returned to work and thankfully, more than 50 percent of residents who also contracted Covid-19 have now been cleared of the virus.

Since July 9 when the first case of Covid-19 was confirmed in the home, we have been contacting the families/representatives of residents with Covid-19 nearly every day as well as providing written daily updates to all residents, their loved ones and employees. We have done this to keep everyone informed about the ongoing developments and measures implemented in the home. The response has been overall very positive and we are incredibly thankful for this.

I want to reassure our broader Benetas community that we have learnt an incredible amount over this time which we can apply quickly if the situation occurs again. We are sincerely hopeful however, this does not occur.

Significantly, we could not have gotten through this time without the incredible leadership of the Residential Manager Rakesh Sarkar, Regional Manager Justin McCarthy and General Manager of Residential Services Verity Leith, as well as each and every one of our employees. We also could not have gotten through it without our incredibly supportive community.

But mostly our minds remain with those we have lost and I know that they will always be in our hearts.

Please continue to take care and if you have any questions about our Covid-19 response at St George’s, do not hesitate to visit Benetas' Covid-19 Page or email covid19enquiries@benetas.com.au.

Yours sincerely

Sandra Hills OAM

Chief Executive Officer