The operators of the St Basil’s nursing home in Melbourne have asked the coroner to excuse them from giving evidence at an inquest into the deaths of 50 residents in a COVID-19 outbreak last year on the grounds they might incriminate themselves.

Key points:

  • The aged care home’s operators Kon Kontis and Vicki Kos were due to give evidence next week
  • The coroner will hear submissions from interested parties before making a ruling on their request to be excused
  • John Atzarakis, whose mother died in the outbreak, says management owes the community an explanation

Kon Kontis and Vicki Kos were running the St Basil’s aged care home in July last year when the virus swept through the Fawkner facility, leading to the deadliest aged care outbreak in the nation.

They were due to give evidence to a coronial inquest in Melbourne early next week.

But in a surprise move late on Tuesday, a barrister for Mr Kontis and Ms Kos asked that they be excused on the grounds they might incriminate themselves.

It is expected the application will be opposed by families who lost loved ones in the outbreak.

Coroner John Cain will hear submissions from the interested parties before making a ruling.

The inquest has already heard evidence St Basil’s management wasn’t happy with a state government decision to replace the entire staff with an agency workforce early in the outbreak.

One of the replacement workers, Heleni Bagiartakis told the inquest she was surprised when Ms Kos said she wouldn’t accept phone calls regarding the clinical care of residents after she was stood down.

“I don’t recall the exact words,” Ms Bagiartakis told the inquest.

“The message though was, ‘It wasn’t our decision, we don’t agree with the decision, therefore it’s not our problem’.”

Grieving son says bid to avoid giving evidence is ‘shameful’ 

John Atzarakis, whose 77-year-old mother Fotini died in the outbreak, said the coronial process was about getting to the truth of how the outbreak occurred.

“If people are allowed to be excused, we’re going to get half the story and we’re going to get a select story and that’s not what a coronial inquest is about,” he said.

John stands on a suburban nature strip, wearing a white mask and blue suit.

John Atzarakis says families are still navigating trauma and grief as the coroner investigates last year’s deadly outbreak.(ABC News: Joseph Dunstan)

Mr Atzarakis said his 83-year-old father, who met his mother as a teenager, was struggling with the loss of his life partner, who was only meant to stay at St Basil’s for a fortnight of respite care.

“He’s not coping with it, he takes all the blame,” he said.

Mr Atzarakis said it was “shameful” that the operators of the home were trying to avoid what he believed was their responsibility to give evidence.

“These people [the residents] were elderly, these people were weak, they were at the mercy of the staff and management,” he said.

“The staff and management were accountable for their lives, they need to take ownership.

“I lost my mother because of that. And they owe everyone an explanation.”

Spiro Vasilakis sitting at a wooden table next to a smiling photo of his late mother.

Spiro Vasilakis lost his elderly mother, Maria, in the COVID outbreak at St Basil’s.(ABC News: James Hancock)

Spiro Vasilakis, whose 81-year-old mother Maria was among those who died during the outbreak, said he wanted to hear directly from those who ran St Basil’s.

“The families would be outraged, absolutely outraged, that they have not got the decency and the honesty to front up and face the questioning,” he said.

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St Basil’s operators ask to be excused from giving evidence at coronial inquest into COVID deaths
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