Saturday, 12 July 2008

Ten dead at nursing home

THE deaths of 10 elderly people in three weeks at a Blue Mountains nursing home last month were not reported to police or the State Coroner's special investigations unit, NSW police said last night.

It was incumbent on any medical practitioner treating patients at a nursing home to report a death, police said, if there were any other deaths that might be related.

"We have checked with the crime manager for the Blue Mountains Command and he has checked their records for the past month and there are no reported deaths to police from any nursing home … at Springwood," a police spokesman said last night.

Police are expected to begin an investigation today into a report by the Health Department, which broke the news of 10 deaths at Endeavour Nursing Home, Springwood.

The department played down suggestions the deaths were caused by gastroenteritis but said it would investigate again.

In a statement the department said 83 residents of the home were struck down with diarrhoea and other painful symptoms late last month.

Food poisoning was investigated as a cause but the NSW Food Authority ruled that out after inspecting the home.

The acting deputy chief health officer for NSW Health, Jeremy McAnulty, said the results from tests on a number of ill residents had found Clostridium perfringens, a bacterium that can cause food poisoning.

"Infection with this germ is characterised by sudden onset of diarrhoea of brief duration, often with stomach cramps, 10 to 12 hours after ingestion of contaminated food," he said in a statement. "During the outbreak period 10 residents died from a variety of apparently unrelated conditions. Some of these had had mild diarrhoea."

Dr McAnulty said many of the death certificates gave the cause of death as pneumonia and other unrelated conditions. The risk of further infection was thought to be low. "However, all precautions are being taken, including an epidemiological investigation and reinspection of all food-handling procedures, to protect other residents."

Extra control measures during food preparation and handling would be implemented, he said.

The NSW Food Authority inspected the home and found no obvious breach of protocols, the statement said. NSW Health said a panel had been convened to help the investigation. The nursing home had appointed an officer to monitor staff and food handling.

The NSW Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association last night called for an investigation by the State Coroner.

The association's policy co-ordinator, Paul Versteege, said NSW Health and the federal Minister for Ageing needed to explain how it could be presumed that the 10 deaths had nothing to do with bacterial infection after bacteria was detected in residents after two gastroenteritis outbreaks.

Last year 22 residents and 11 staff were struck down with gastroenteritis at a Canberra nursing home.

Updated: Mon 14 10:24am (AEST)

Nursing home deaths: Old food blamed for outbreak

Health authorities believe a food-borne illness caused a gastroenteritis outbreak at a Blue Mountains nursing home, during which 10 elderly people died.

More than 80 people were struck down by gastroenteritis at the Endeavour Nursing Home in June.

New South Wales Health communicable diseases director Jeremy McAnulty says some of the 10 deaths during the period appear unrelated to the outbreak but it cannot be ruled out as a contributing factor.

"Certainly, some of those deaths seem unrelated in that they didn't have any diarrhoea at all," he said.

"Others were people who did have some diarrhoea that seemed to have gone away before they died of some other reason.

"But we can't rule out that some deaths in the frail people, on top of their underlying condition, having diarrhoea may have contributed to that, so we don't know that for sure."

Food Authority inspectors have given the nursing home the all clear and Dr McAnulty says there is no ongoing risk.

"We have found toxin that's commonly found in food-borne outbreaks that's called clostridium perfringens," he said.

"That's a toxin produced by bacteria that's found in food after it's been sitting around for a while, so that plus the nature of the outbreak - that sudden sharp increase and it going away - all adds up to a food-borne outbreak."

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