Christchurch woman stuck in Hospital unable to get Covid-19 test



Stuck in hospital deteriorating and growing weaker, Mary Kincaid has been separated from her family for the longest time in her life.

The 90-year-old sometimes calls out from her room, desirous for company. Kincaid has dementia; she has been regressing to her childhood, reliving memories from her native Scotland during the war.

The Christchurch woman is among several elderly people caught between conflicting advice. The New Zealand Aged Care Association has told its members any new admissions need to first return a negative Covid-19 test, but the Ministry of Health says new admissions should only be tested if they are symptomatic. 

Regardless of testing, any new admissions must be isolated for 14 days.

Cat Kincaid said Burwood Hospital staff had refused to test her mother, and the new aged care facility she was due to move to was not relaxing its requirements either.

"They're just saying they will not test anyone who is asymptomatic. That's their stance and that's it, end of story, they won't help," she said.

"It's so tricky because she's caught in such a predicament."

Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) incident controller Dan Coward said the DHB would test patients being transferred to aged care facilities if they were leaving areas where there had been an outbreak or if they had been in contact with a confirmed or probable case.

As per the ministry advice, Coward said testing asymptomatic people was not recommended. The New Zealand Microbiology Network had put out a position statement opposing the idea of routine testing of transfers into or between aged care facilities, he said.

If facilities followed advice to the contrary, Coward said that would be the reason for an inpatient being kept from their destination upon discharge.

Mary Kincaid first moved into an aged care facility last January. This March, she started slurring her words and struggling to walk. She was taken to Christchurch Hospital with what was though to be an infection, then transferred to Burwood for rehabilitation on March 19.

Her family had been visiting every day before the lockdown, but had since been relying on phone calls to stay in touch.

Cat Kincaid said staff at Burwood had been providing amazing care, including setting her mother up in a wheelchair at the nurses' station to keep her company, but her condition had been deteriorating. 

"She's getting weaker and weaker and she's not drinking, she's not eating. She's just so stressed with not seeing family as well. She is deteriorating, which is breaking our hearts."

While she was in Burwood, it was decided Mary Kincaid required hospital-level care at an aged care facility. Her current facility did not provide this, so her family found another Arvida Group facility nearby and managed to move her belongings there.

Once the new facility found out Mary Kincaid was calling out and would not do well in isolation, the transfer date was pushed back. Cat Kincaid said a social worker at Burwood Hospital helped secure additional funding to pay for more staffing while her mother was in isolation.

Then the issue of testing got raised.

Cat Kincaid said the family tried getting the DHB to test their mother, and went to her former GP, her former rest home and the new aged care facility. They also asked the new facility if it could make an exception, all to no avail.

"It's a hospital full of doctors – someone do a test," she said. "I mean they're testing random people in supermarkets."

The family had hoped they could get Mary Kincaid into the new facility so her two week isolation period coincided with the end of lockdown. Now, they had no idea when she would be able to move, they just wanted it done as soon as possible.

"It is really frustrating. We're just at our wits' end here."

After Stuff put in questions about a woman in a similar position in the Hutt Valley, the district health board there tested her. Cat Kincaid hoped the same thing could be done for her mother.

A spokesman for Arvida Group said all new admissions had to be tested.

Aged Care Association chief executive Simon Wallace acknowledged there was a divide between the ministry and the association on the issue of testing all returning and new aged care admissions. He believed it needed to happen to protect what was a vulnerable population.

"Ours is not a solely science-based position, it's a leadership position, and it's a position of empathy for families."

Please note: 

Te Hopai supports the stance taken by Aged Care Association and Arvida Group.

No new residents will be accepted into Te Hopai from the DHB without a prior Covid-19 test.

Regardless of the result of the Test, any new residents will also undergo a 14 day isolation period with nursing staff wearing full PPE (Personal protection equipment). We believe this is vitally important to protect our Residents