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Covid-19 hits old-age home

With coronavirus infections and deaths rapidly increasing by the day, community transmission appears to be a harsh reality as more suspected cases, including a Strand old-age home resident who apparently died after testing positive, have been brought to the fore.

A relative of the deceased approached DistrictMail with concerns about the facility’s transparency and its prevention and management of possible Covid-19 outbreaks after the 73-year-old resident fell ill and subsequently died in hospital at the weekend. The family confirmed the resident’s positive status, could’nt confirm whether she died as a result of Covid-19 or an underlying health condition.

According to the relative, the family was in the dark about the seriousness of the resident’s illness until one of her children, who is a paramedic, managed to gain access to the facility last Wednesday and an ambulance was called to transport her to hospital for medical assistance the following day.

The relative said due to the lockdown protocol, which prohibited any visitor access to the facility, the family remained in contact with the woman telephonically and would occasionally drop-off medication for her flu-like symptoms including fever and chestiness at the gate.

“If action was not taken by the family she would probably have died at the facility. We weren’t even aware of suspected Covid-19 cases among staff, leaving already vulnerable residents at risk,” said the relative, adding that the family believes the way the matter was dealt with resulted in them not being able to seek medical treatment sooner or in time to prepare themselves mentally or emotionally for the loss.

The chairperson of the facility’s board responded with the following statement: “[The facility] is committed to the welfare of those within our care. Since just before the national lockdown we immediately declared the centre a no-visitor zone. Protocols were put in place to minimise contact with broader society.

“As per the Department of Social Development’s (DSD) advice, everyone is temperature-tested daily and staff are required to fill in the questionnaire which tracks their contacts. Within the centre, social distancing has been encouraged. As our residents are elderly and some have pre-existing conditions, there is a need to transport them to hospital. This is the only time they are outside the facility and beyond our care.

“A nurse has tested positive, but she has been in self-isolation for a number of days. We believe the resident, who had been taken to hospital and subsequently died there, tested positive. DSD has been kept fully apprised of the situation. The department is now in the process of testing everyone with swab tests. We await those results and further advice from DSD if more stringent measures need to be taken.”

Joshua Chigome, spokesperson for the provincial DSD, could not confirm the status at the home. “This is confidential information, which can be disclosed only by the home or the family,” he explained. “Information pertaining to the health status of the individuals within old-age homes falls within the Department of Health’s mandate as well as the board of the home. While we fund the home, the staffing arrangements are decided by the board and management on an individual basis.”

DSD is working closely with all boards of old-age homes to implement infectious disease policies as well as disaster management plans.

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