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3 Dead, 60 Sick from nursing home virus outbreak at Westcourt

Mercy Place at Westcourt, where three residents have recently died from a respiratory illness outbreak. PICTURE: BRENDAN RADKE

PEOPLE with cold and flu symptoms have been warned to stay away from nursing homes, following another fatal disease outbreak at a Far Northern aged-care facility.

Three residents have died and 60 others – including 24 staff – have fallen sick from respiratory illness at Mercy Place in Westcourt since February 14. It is the second disease outbreak to have killed residents at a nursing home in the region since the start of the year, following the deaths of seven people at Herberton Hospital.

Mercy Place is currently in lockdown, with manager Mercy Health activating control measures to protect the safety and wellbeing of its residents, families and staff.

The aged-care provider’s Queensland manager Anita Ghose said the majority of residents and staff had been swabbed for common viruses, with a significant proportion testing positive for influenza B. She said the nursing home was working closely with Queensland Health to control the outbreak.

“This includes strict infection control measures, prophylactic medication, the deployment of a specialist response team of senior clinicians to Cairns from Victoria, additional clinical staffing resources in the home, close consultation with local general practitioners and medical services, cessation of all communal activities, additional cleaning of communal areas, and the limiting of all non-essential visits to the home,’’ she said.

She said a majority of residents and staff had recovered well, however, Mercy Health would maintain its strict infection control procedures for eight days until there were no further cases.

“The health and well being of our residents and staff remains our highest priority at all times,’’ she said.

Cairns public health director Dr Richard Gair said vulnerable people, including the elderly, could suffer more serious respiratory illness, which sometimes led to death.

“In order to reduce the risk of infection, we encourage families and other regular visitors to aged care facilities to avoid visiting when they have cold or flu-like symptoms,” he said.

“Ensure they have an annual seasonal flu vaccination and adhere to good hygiene, such as thorough handwashing, when they do visit.”

Queensland Aged and Disability Advocacy CEO Geoff Rowe said fatal disease outbreaks at nursing homes were uncommon.

“Aged care, by and large, is a fairly heavily regulated industry, particularly residential aged care, with lots of requirements and independent certification,’’ he said.

“The (Australian Aged Care) Quality Agency does make unannounced visits to facilities, just to check that all of the standards are being met.

“When you get a situation like this, that is out of the ordinary, it does raise concerns.”