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80yo security guards: How Coast aged care residents manned COVID checkpoint

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A Sunshine Coast aged care provider at the centre of a COVID-19 scare allowed residents to operate a checkpoint at the facility for months during the pandemic.

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Immanuel Gardens at Buderim, which offers retirement living and aged care, went into lockdown on Monday after four residents began experiencing respiratory symptoms. They later tested negative to coronavirus.

The ABC reports that for months prior to the scare, elderly residents at the village had been volunteering at a checkpoint at the entrance to the facility on Magnetic Drive.

The residents, some older than 80, made temperature checks and asked visitors screening questions to evaluate any risk they had been in contact with a known infection.

It is understood the checkpoint would be manned by staff until mid-afternoon when the volunteer residents would take over and work until 6:00pm.

In a statement, Immanuel Gardens’ operator Lutheran Services confirmed some residents “may have previously volunteered their time to assist”.

“Lutheran Services does not support residents volunteering their time in this role,” its CEO Nick Ryan said in the statement.

“A trained and experienced workforce is employed to oversee site-visitation procedures.”

The group owns nine aged care homes around Queensland including at Kingaroy, Toowoomba, Caboolture, Biloela, and Woodridge.

Family says checkpoint practice ‘improper’

The daughter of one of the residents involved in manning the checkpoint, who asked not to be named, told the ABC she was horrified to learn what was going on.

“I’m thinking ‘they’re breaking every rule of infection control’ having all these elderly residents checking people. I felt it was improper,” she said.

“I was particularly concerned one day when I was coming through the checkpoint. “A poor little old lady, she would have been in her 80s, with grey hair, was trying to use an umbrella to keep the rain off her and hold a thermometer out to me to take my temperature.”

The resident’s daughter said she did not want to “rock the boat” for her parents, who loved living in the village.

“There’s a fine line between keeping the residents involved and exposing them to danger, and someone should be well enough trained to know the difference,” she said.

It is believed the facility’s managers put a stop to the practice three weeks ago, acknowledging to residents that it was a risk to have them manning the checkpoint.

Concerns seniors put on ‘frontline’

Federal Member for Fairfax Ted O’Brien has referred the matter to the federal and Queensland governments.

“Residents of Immanuel Gardens are wonderful people and they’re such valued members of our local community,” O’Brien said.

“But it concerns me greatly to hear senior citizens in their 70s and 80s may have been put on the front line at COVID checkpoints.

“While this is the first I’ve heard of this issue, we need to get to the bottom of it.”

Deputy Premier and Health Minister Steven Miles was not across the detail but said he would be concerned if the people manning such checkpoints were also “potentially the most vulnerable”. He said risks should not be taken with COVID-19.

“We would certainly urge any aged care facility to ensure that every detail of the covid response plan is reviewed and approved by our local public health unit,” Miles said.

O’Brien said Lutheran Services had been swift to act when residents became unwell in recent days and he expected this would continue.

“I will raise the issue directly with Lutheran Services and also with the relevant federal and state ministers requesting the matter be looked into,” O’Brien said.

“Since the Commonwealth regulates aged care and the State regulates retirement villages, it’s important I raise it with both tiers of government.”

Facility accused of cost-cutting

The family member also told the ABC she was relieved residents were no longer volunteering at the checkpoint, but wanted the issue to be raised so it never happens again.

“In light of the Melbourne situation with nursing homes it’s not like they’re not aware of how bad this can be for elderly people,” she said. “There’s got to be a duty of care to these residents.

“There’s a lot of money in these nursing homes so there’s no reason why they have to get the elderly residents to man the checkpoints.

“That, to me, was blatant cost-cutting.”

– ABC / Amy Sheehan

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