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My Mum Is In Newmarch House, My Heart Stops Every Time They Call

Coronavirus or COVID-19.

Long before it touched my life on a personal level, I had watched news reports from the comfort of my couch as it swept across the globe.

Initially, in Australia, it seemed a minor inconvenience to everyday life. Sure, there was the threat of social restrictions, but that was all still a world away. I congratulated myself rather smugly for heeding early warning signs. I had face masks, sanitiser, a well-stocked pantry and plenty of toilet rolls.

It became slightly more serious, when restrictions were placed on visits to my mum. Ensconced safe and sound in her nursing home, my mum Rose, who is 84, had been happily placed in a lovely facility for a number of years, cared for by a committed team of healthcare workers.

Little did I know the devastating effect COVID-19 would bring to our lives.

Mum before she moved to Newmarch House. (Image: Supplied)

On the 23rd of March 2020, Newmarch House went into lockdown. Mum had just begun to lose a long battle with dementia. So the lockdown, even then, was more an annoyance -- a hindrance to the frequent visits that were required to help mum stay connected mentally with family. Still, it wouldn’t last long, surely? After all the lock down was only going to be temporary, a fail safe to ensure the general health and well-being of Newmarch’s many residents.

Death Toll Rises At Newmarch House

During those weeks, I made do with regular phone calls to mum in which I regaled her with stories of the ridiculousness in the outside world. The empty shelves appearing more frequently in supermarkets, as people began panic buying. The appearance, suddenly, of red, yellow, green and black crosses every where as people suddenly lost the ability to understand the concept of social distancing. We laughed together at the rationing of grocery items, which reminded her of growing up in the aftermath of World War II in Britain.

Then on April 12th, sh*t got real, as they say. Very, very real.

The news came out that a healthcare worker at the aged care facility of Newmarch House had tested positive for COVID-19. I watched the news that day in shock, shushing my daughter, straining to hear the details. Later that evening, the first email came from Anglicare management -- one care worker and one resident had tested positive.

Investigations were under way to discover why and how this worker with minor symptoms had been able to work six shifts at the home. A second resident was also being tested. In the meantime, all residents would be confined to their rooms in isolation to prevent further spread of what was now a very real threat to the health and well-being of not only my family but many others as well.

Mum with her oldest grandson Daniel during the last visit before lockdown. (Image: Supplied)

There was no way of knowing this was just the beginning and that over the coming weeks there would be a seemingly endless flood of emails and news headlines bringing with them each time more and more bad news for families.

Every day, it seemed there were more positive cases and consequently more deaths.

I began to dread seeing Newmarch House flash up on my caller ID -- my heart stopped momentarily each time I answered. Were they ringing to let me know that the latest resident to test positive was my mum? How in the hell had this happened? What were they doing about it? And why was it not being contained? These were questions I was asking myself on an almost daily basis.

When I learned a few family members had begun to appear everyday at 4 pm in front of Newmarch House protesting the lack of information, it wasn’t long before I joined them. I simply wanted to see if there was anything further I could learn about this distressing situation. Did the others perhaps know more?

Surely there had to be some answers.

It turns out they didn’t. They were all equally in the dark and afraid for their loved ones. Almost daily, the number of positive cases was growing and more residents were losing the battle. Anglicare, it seemed, was in damage control and only releasing information they needed to, while scrambling to contain what was clearly now a situation out of control.

Visiting mum at Newmarch... through a fence. (Image: Supplied)

Over the last few weeks, the story of Newmarch House has become far more well known -- sadly, for all the wrong reasons. But the continued persistence of families and the almost constant media attention has meant that far more positive action has been taken. I -- like many of the other family members -- have had a crash course in technology in order to keep up with the webinars and Zoom conferences that Anglicare eventually presented in a bid to reassure families.

The battle is still not over. According to infectious disease experts, Newmarch must go 14 days without a new positive case before they can say the outbreak has been contained.

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Today, is the first time in weeks there is some small comfort, we are two days into that 14-day countdown. I’m sure many families like myself are watching the calendar with baited breath. Due to a lapse in containment, we expect a couple more positive tests. (Ed. note: After this was written, an asymptomatic staff member of the facility tested positive.)

But, after speaking directly with Grant Millard, the CEO of Anglicare Sydney, I'm hopeful that we can breath a small sigh of relief with the knowledge that they may now be turning the corner in containment within the home.

Having spoken with many others, I know there is a general feeling of heartache for those who have lost loved ones. The many families with COVID-positive relatives are still holding their breath that family members will come through the other side. Sadly, not all of them will.

We still have at least 12 more days to go before any of us will truly believe we have turned the corner. And, I think that Anglicare will still have many questions to answer. But for now, at least, there is a small glimmer of hope for the majority of the residents and their families.

Featured Image: Getty