Epping Gardens aged care facility owner charged over deadly COVID outbreak

The operator of a Melbourne aged care home at the centre of a deadly COVID-19 outbreak is facing millions of dollars in fines for allegedly failing to provide a safe work environment to staff during the pandemic.

Heritage Care is the second aged care operator in a week in Melbourne to be accused by WorkSafe of breaching occupational safety laws, after charges were filed against St Basil’s Homes for the Aged last Monday.

A body is taken from the Epping Gardens Aged Care facility during the 2020 outbreak. Credit:Eddie Jim

The charges are the result of a 22-month probe of Epping Gardens Aged Care in which investigators combed through thousands of pages of documents and carried out interviews.

Thirty-four residents at the Epping facility died after contracting COVID-19 during the outbreak, which occurred between March and July 2020. A total of 89 residents and 65 staff tested positive for the virus.

WorkSafe alleges Heritage Care failed to adequately train its staff in the use and disposal of personal protective equipment and to ensure workers and others were not exposed to health and safety risks on site.

The penalty for each of these offences is a fine of up to $1.49 million, a WorkSafe statement said.

The statement said guidelines on the correct use of protective equipment were available to the care home after being published in March and updated in April.

Heritage runs five homes in Victoria and six in NSW.

Aged care homes across the country have experienced significant COVID-19 spread, with 1964 COVID-19 deaths reported nationally in the year to June 30 and 2881 over the course of the pandemic.

An independent review of the outbreaks at Epping Gardens and St Basil’s found both facilities had poor emergency planning, inadequate staff training and insufficient infection prevention and control procedures.

Last month, two former managers at St Basil’s began Supreme Court action to avoid giving evidence at an upcoming coronial inquest into the deaths, arguing doing so may incriminate them in any future criminal prosecution.

Both the Heritage Care and St Basil’s matters are listed for a hearing in Melbourne Magistrates’ Court in August.

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