Mum ‘died of severe dehydration’ after COVID lockdown
A devestated Sydney woman says her elderly mother passed away suffering from severe dehydration because nursing home staff were unable to properly care for her once family visits were banned amid a coronavirus outbreak.
Agnes Constanti's mother Crystalla died aged 97 on April 9, less than three weeks after the Opal Care Bankstown facility where she lived was locked down due to a confirmed COVID-19 case.
Ms Constanti, who normally visited twice a day to feed her mother, provided a detailed care plan to management and rang the facility constantly to ensure temporary staff - brought in while regular employees were in quarantine - knew what to do.
Within weeks Ms Constanti alerted staff her mother appeared unwell - having lost more than three kilograms in a fortnight - during a "virtual visit" on Facetime.
"Next they rang telling me that mum was to be rushed to hospital because her blood pressure had dropped dramatically and was very dehydrated," she said.
"During the phone call I was horrified to hear screams in the background asking them if that was mum, they said, 'no, it's the care manager telling your mum to eat'."
Though Crystalla was not found to have COVID-19, she was kept in isolation in hospital.
In the 97-year-old's last moments, Ms Constanti stood by her mother's bed in gloves, a gown and mask, and sang her favourite Italian ballad.
"She was a quarter of her normal self," Ms Constanti says.
"Just two palms waving on sticks, I think she was in pain … when I sang her eyes were closed but she moved her eyebrows up and down, I think she was trying to sing along."
Ms Constanti said management at Opal lacked "compassion" in providing care to her frail mother, who suffered dementia and was unable to communicate when hungry, thirsty or in pain.
"Where was their concern, responsibility or even their duty of care to monitor mum's situation during this time, knowing very well of her frail position?," she said.
Five people at the Bankstown facility contracted COVID-19, including three staff and two elderly male residents who both later died.
An Opal Care spokeswoman said the Bankstown facility was directed to lockdown by the NSW Public Health Unit during the outbreak.
"During the lockdown we continued to have regular conversations and provide updates on Mrs Constanti's health as our team attended to her care," she said.
The spokeswoman said the care home had the "appropriate complement of team" to provide nutrition and hydration to residents, even when relatives supported meal times.
"It was no different while our home was in lockdown from 22 March to 23 April due to the COVID-19 outbreak," she said.
Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy said on Sunday he was open to reviewing non-coronavirus deaths during the pandemic to assess if a higher rate of aged care deaths was a side effect of the crisis.
"That would be a difficult study to do, but let me consider that one," he told The Daily Telegraph.
"My concern was not such much the risk of death, but the mental health risk, if you're someone who has dementia and you're at the end of life and your only person that gives you … interaction is your family, then unless there's a really strong public health reason, we should allow visitation."
Prime Minister Scott Morrison last month urged aged care providers to facilitate small, time-limited visits from family to the elderly unless exceptional circumstances, which included a major coronavirus outbreak in a particular home.
Originally published as Mum 'died of severe dehydration' after COVID lockdown