Boro Petkovic with his daughter Jayne.
Boro Petkovic with his daughter Jayne.

‘Heartless’ call will ‘torment’ daughter

Boro Petkovic deserved better in his final hours.

His daughter Jayne deserved to learn of his death in a different way.

Through tears, she says the phone call she received after the 82-year-old Melbourne man died from COVID-19 inside the virus-plagued St Basil's Home for the Aged will "torment" her.

The conversation with a woman she had never met came just before midnight last Thursday and was the first she had heard about her father's condition for 58 agonising hours despite repeated attempts to make contact over several days.

"I'm just calling to let you know your father's passed away," the woman on the other end of the phone told Jayne.

"I lost it," Jayne says. "I was screaming. I asked her, 'Why didn't you call?'"

The response, Jayne says, was "cold and heartless".

"He was fine this morning. He was fine this afternoon. Now he's passed away," she was told.

That was followed by a barrage of questions that left Jayne feeling insulted and humiliated.

"Haven't you organised anything?" Jayne was asked. "Not even after last week?"

Then this: "Were you close?"

Jayne will never forget that question. Its callous nature. She says it is indicative of the way the Federal Government's takeover staff are treating families of the victims of the aged care cluster at the Fawkner facility.

"She made me feel like my father was a piece of rubbish to be collected."

Boro Petkovic with his daughter, Jayne.
Boro Petkovic with his daughter, Jayne.

DEATH CERTIFICATE MISSING CRUCIAL DETAILS

Boro was buried in front of just 10 people on Tuesday because Victoria's current restrictions prevent more than 10 guests at a funeral.

As family laid him to rest, they still did not know anything about his death.

The cause of death certificate was not provided when the body was released. The family received it two days after Boro's death and it stated simply that he passed away "from COVID-19".

It contained information that was 15 years old and included a previous address.

Jayne believes her father was not examined at the time of death by a qualified person.

Numerous phone calls have made no headway in getting more information.

"I haven't heard anything," Jayne says.

"I spoke to the original management during this time. I said we can't put my dad to rest without it. I don't want him left in limbo like he was in there.

"I want to know what he was going through before he passed away. Did he need oxygen? Was he in any pain? Did he die in his sleep?"

The lack of answers is a symptom of the decision to evacuate every single member of the original St Basil's staff. That decision, Jayne says, was a mistake.

And it was a decision she only learned about from watching the news.

"I got a call from St Basil's staff to let me know two staff members were positive for coronavirus last Monday," she says.

"On Tuesday, I got a call saying Dad was being tested and that if I don't hear back that's a good sign because he's negative.

"Wednesday came and went and I didn't get a phone call. I was relieved but concerned.

"On Friday, St Basil's called and told me they had moved Dad to a section where negative residents were."

The weekend passed without any news. But on Monday, a staff member called to tell Jayne that things had changed.

Boro Petkovic with his family.
Boro Petkovic with his family.

"She said to me, 'I think you know why I'm calling. We've done new tests and your dad is positive.'

"I was a bit frantic. I understand these things can happen. On Tuesday I got a call from a doctor who said Dad was showing no significant symptoms and that he wanted to be left alone.

"On Wednesday I rang and rang and rang. All day Wednesday. Then I got a glimpse of something on the TV."

Jayne was watching a news report declaring that all staff were walked out of the facility.

"I was totally in shock. I wanted to know why I was hearing that over the news. Why didn't anyone tell us?

"The people coming in are total strangers."

On Thursday, she spoke with a caretaker staff member with a thick accent that made understanding him almost impossible.

"I thought I had the wrong number," Jayne says. "I thought I'd reached a call centre. I asked for an update on Dad and told them to call me back. But they didn't. I was going crazy."

Then Jayne's phone rang with the news no family member wants to receive. Certainly not in that way.

She said the woman on the phone told her that Boro was checked at 10pm and he was fine. By 11.45pm he was dead.

Boro Petkovic died last Thursday.
Boro Petkovic died last Thursday.

WE SAW HIM THROUGH A WINDOW

Boro turned 82 on May 24 but could only see family through a window. He never got to meet his great grandchild.

He was healthy and had never had a lung condition, but suffered from dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

The last few months were hard for him, Jayne says. His eyesight wasn't great and he struggled with his hearing so conversations with family were few and far between.

But he was comforted knowing that family were close and he was comfortable in the company of original St Basil's staff.

"The way they've done this isn't right," Jayne says. "I want to say something to (the) takeover staff and to whoever made the decision to remove them. To me, it's like, I don't want to be cruel but may God give you back some of the pain you have inflicted on all of us.

"There was no comfort for those residents. In their situation, change is huge. They had enough change with COVID restrictions. And then they treat us like … what did they think we were?

"The people they put in there, that I've spoken to, were cold. They were heartless."

News.com.au has contacted St Basil's management and the Department of Health and Human Services for comment.

Boro Petkovic moved to Australia in the 1970s from Serbia.
Boro Petkovic moved to Australia in the 1970s from Serbia.

HE WAS A KIND, GENTLE PERSON

"Dad was a happy person," Jayne says. "He was a kind, gentle person. He would help anybody who needed it. He would always be there to help."

Boro moved to Melbourne in 1973 from Serbia with his wife Nevza and his two children. He lived with the family in Richmond and later in Reservoir.

He was a labourer and he loved his family. They loved him back.

"I took care of my dad and what he needed," Jayne says. "As he was ageing, I thought it was best to sell his house. We bought a house near us, only a kilometre or so away from me.

"I'd get home from work, bring him over to the house and we'd cook with the grandkids."

Her father was a "proud man" who struggled when his memory started to go. His wife had passed away and he needed extra care.

The decision to move him to St Basil's was a difficult one but he settled in. Then COVID-19 reached Australia and everything changed.

St Basil's is not the only nursing home under siege from the virus. More than a dozen aged care facilities in Melbourne are struggling.

The Premier has called in help from the Australian Defence Force and the Federal Government, which manages aged care, has called in specialist AUSMAT teams.

But people are still dying. And every aged care death is devastating.

rohan.smith1@news.com.au | @ro_smith



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