A Queensland nursing home left residents homeless and staff unpaid when it abruptly shut down. The incident highlighted the federal Coalition government’s shameful refusal to act to fix our continuing aged care disgrace.
Almost 70 elderly residents were abandoned and staff were left unpaid when Earle Haven Retirement Village on Queensland’s Gold Coast shut down without warning.
The sudden closure was the result of a contract dispute between the owner of Earle Haven and HelpStreet, the subcontractor running the facility.
According to evidence before the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, about 1 pm on 11 July, staff were told they would not be paid because a financial dispute between HelpStreet and owner Arthur Miller had not been resolved.
HelpStreet removed computer servers with vital patient records and organised removalists to take away beds as residents ate their lunch, the commission heard.
Only then, after some staff had left, did HelpStreet call triple zero asking for ambulances to evacuate residents, including many with complex and life-threatening conditions.
Ambulance supervisor Cary Strong told the commission he arrived to find a removalist truck at the home, with furniture and boxes being removed.
He saw a man in a wheelchair trying to push himself to the foyer with his urinary bag dragging behind him.
Strong also had to comfort a 92-year-old woman with dementia.
“She was very distressed, very disorientated, crying. Her daughter was there; she was crying as well,” he said.
Residents still paying as shutdown proceeds
Relatives said HelpStreet was still withdrawing money from residents’ accounts as the shutdown proceeded.
Elizabeth Brown’s mother, who has dementia, was one of those evacuated from Earle Haven.
Ms Brown told the ABC that on the day of the shutdown, $2,500 was withdrawn from their account early to pay for the following month’s services.
Lorraine Cook, whose husband only arrived at Earle Haven a week before the shutdown, also said payment was taken out of her account early.
“It’s not their money. They won’t be there to do the care so they shouldn’t have taken it,” Ms Cook said.
HelpStreet has since gone into liquidation and the Queensland Nurses and Midwives’ Union (QNMU) is seeking to recover money owed to members.
More than 90 people including about 40 QNMU members worked at the facility and some are still owed wages and other entitlements.
QNMU calls for criminal investigation
QNMU Secretary Beth Mohle said closing an entire aged care facility without an appropriate plan for staff and residents was “an unprecedented and disgraceful situation that should never have been allowed to occur”.
Beth said off-duty nurses and other staff rushed to the facility to help residents as news of the shutdown spread.
She commended the actions of nurses and other staff who helped despite losing their jobs.
At the QNMU’s annual confer-ence, more than 350 delegates voted to call for a Queensland police investigation of any possible offences related to the Earle Haven closure.
However, police said there was no evidence of criminal offences and therefore no charges to lay unless new information came to light.
More than 32 paramedics, nurses, doctors and Queensland Health staff, as well as the state Health Minister, Labor’s Steven Miles, attended the village to organise transfers to about a dozen other nursing homes and to hospital.
QNMU delegates congratulated the Queensland Labor government for its “swift action to address this disastrous system failure, in particular the efforts of Queensland Health and the Queensland Ambulance Service to swiftly relocate affected residents”.
The state government, which had already moved to improve nursing home staffing in Queensland, initiated a parliamentary inquiry into Earle Haven.
Chair of parliament’s Health Committee, Labor MP Aaron Harper, said: “People are deeply shocked by what has happened there, and angry at the apparent failure of the federal agencies that are supposed to protect the safety and wellbeing of the elderly in nursing homes.”
The federal Coalition government’s Minister for Aged Care, Richard Colbeck, also announced an inquiry.
He thanked Queensland Health and emergency services as well as staff who stayed behind to help residents.
However, Mr Colbeck did not agree to a QNMU request for emergency federal government payments for unpaid Earle Haven staff.
Queensland Labor legislates for ratios
Minimum staff-to-resident ratios will apply at Queensland’s 16 state-run nursing homes under legislation pushed by the state Labor government.
A Labor bill currently before parliament mandates 3.65 hours of nursing per resident per day, with a required skill mix of 50 per cent AiNs, 30 per cent RNs, and 20 per cent ENs.
If passed, the legislation will also require all Queensland aged care facilities and private hospitals to report their staffing levels on a public register.
Labor drew up the legislation after months of consultation with the Queensland Nurses and Midwives’ Union.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the government wants facilities to publicise their staffing levels “for the sake of transparency”.
“If they choose not to, we won’t be afraid to reveal the identity of those unwilling to do the right thing by elderly Queenslanders,” Ms Palaszczuk said.