Aged care nurse takes legal action against former employer

But in July 2020, Callaghan finished her shift and then went straight to the van. She didn’t even stop to enter his house.

Over the next three weeks, she felt crushing pain and feared she was going to die. It was “like someone punched a hole in my chest through my back”.

Kirkbrae care home for the elderly, run by the Presbyterian Church, in Kilsyth.

Kirkbrae care home for the elderly, run by the Presbyterian Church, in Kilsyth.Credit:Joe Armao

She did not go out, fearing to contaminate others. She did not call the ambulance, fearing it would alarm her family. “Also, I didn’t want to expose the ambos.”

There was, she said, only one upside: “I watched all seven seasons of buffy the vampire slayer”.

Ms Callaghan says Kirkbrae, her workplace for five years, was ill-prepared when the virus hit. Rather than an orderly process separating coronavirus cases, she saw the good mingling with the sick.

The work was difficult, especially with the center short-staffed and personal protective equipment constantly being put on and taken off in a way staff knew was less than ideal.

“Every time we walked in and out of a room, outside there was just a small bucket overflowing with PPE. We had to put everything in place,” she says.

Ms Callaghan says preparations for COVID-19 at home were inconsistent, with few clear instructions for wearing masks or protective gear.

She no longer works at Kirkbrae, which age contacted three times for this story. The house did not respond.

Ms Callaghan reports lasting impacts from her illness. In addition to serious mental health issues, she tires easily. Before contracting the coronavirus, she covered 24,000 steps on workdays, working a full shift and then walking her dog for two hours. Now walking around the block gives him pain and shortness of breath. She has a variety of other ailments.


Since March 2020, the government authority WorkSafe has accepted nearly 1,500 claims from people who have contracted coronavirus, including more than 600 from people with mental and physical injuries related to the virus.

Under Victorian law, employees compensated for injuries at work can only seek damages after at least 18 months, to ensure that any permanent consequences of their injury can be assessed.

These claims for damages will soon start to flow. Ms. Callaghan’s is among the first.

She says she wants Kirkbrae to be held accountable for her lack of pandemic preparedness. “All these residents, they didn’t need to die. By working in a retirement home, you get used to death, but not like this. It was just obscene.

Ms Callaghan’s solicitor, Gennaro Fittipaldi, said her injury was preventable. “If management had taken the health and safety of its staff and residents seriously, they would have understood that this disease was deadly and extremely harmful and that action was needed.” Staff were instead allowed to work among symptomatic residents without any system to ensure safety.

Liberty Sanger, by Maurice Blackburn.

Liberty Sanger, by Maurice Blackburn.Credit:Simon’s shoulder

Liberty Sanger is National Head of Injury Law at Maurice Blackburn. She expects more workers to show concern about permanent health symptoms if their employers don’t take reasonable steps to keep them safe.

Safety advice should be followed, she says, to minimize exposure to the coronavirus and its impact on mental health and well-being. “The longer the pandemic lasts, the more we hear about mental health issues stemming from COVID-19 and work stress,” she says.

Peter Ewin is a Principal in the Insurance and Health team of Barry Nilsson Lawyers. The firm mainly acts for insurance companies. Mr Ewin believes that the immense pressure that sectors, including the food industry, are currently under due to a labor shortage will inevitably lead to more injuries.


“From this there will be claims both for physical health and for psychological pressure,” he says. “But the area of ​​health and aged care will also be important, as they are mainly labor hires.”

Mr. Ewin says he has yet to see any serious COVID-19 injury claims at WorkSafe, but expects them to come soon. “What we’re starting to see is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

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