Thirty-eight people died from COVID-19 at the Epping Gardens aged-care home last year. This was a tragedy but, much worse than that, a preventable tragedy. My thoughts today go out to the many families who are still grieving the loss of loved ones. An independent report last year found that frontline workers hired to fill staffing gaps at the nursing home had little experience if aged care. It found poor infection control. In adequate emergency planning and deficient leadership at the facility were also significant factors in these tragic deaths.
We have seen many revelations in The Age newspaper about the owners of the company, including that the director and co-owner of the company in ownership of the facility, Peter Arvanitis, was very recently granted an exception to travel to Greece, apparently for essential business. As I understand it, this outbreak at Epping Gardens remains under investigation by WorkSafe and also by the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner.
I have been listening to the family members of those who have lost loved ones, and I still remember the appalling scenes in such difficult circumstances at the time of the outbreak when people were unable to get close to it for other COVID-safety reasons and the incredible anxiety felt then and still felt now by family members. I acknowledge the extraordinary leadership of my state parliamentary colleague Bronwyn Halfpenny in working to keep families connected and to gain their confidence in a government that was on their side.
I remain deeply concerned that Heritage Care Epping Gardens is not fit to hold accreditation as an aged-care operator. And what is the point, fundamentally, of a regulator if they never use their powers to enforce higher standards or to punish inadequate operation?
What is the point of a regulator that does not stand up and protect our elderly Australians? The aged care royal commission is due to announce its findings at the end of this week, I understand. I look forward to examining those recommendations, but there are things we know already. We've seen the interim report, titled of course Neglect. We've seen the evidence of what happened at places like Epping Gardens and other facilities in Melbourne's northern suburbs that have had such a catastrophic impact on so many lives. When it comes to Heritage Care Epping Gardens, it's clear: this facility needs to be better managed. We owe it to those who lost their lives to learn from this tragedy and never see it repeated. We owe it to them to do better as a country and to better protect and maintain the dignity of our elderly in residential aged care.