Son of Covid-19 victim wishes he’d had a chance to say goodbye

The Covid-19 pandemic has either directly killed or contributed to the deaths of some 2000 New Zealanders. This story is part of a series of reports to commemorate – and to remember – those lost to the virus. You can read our introductory piece here.

When George Hollings died from Covid-19, the only person at his bedside was the nurse holding his hand.

The 83-year-old was one of 20 people from a dementia ward at Rosewood Rest Home and Hospital in Christchurch who were exposed to Covid-19 and transferred to Burwood Hospital early in the pandemic.

Only 11 of them made it out alive.

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Hollings, who had underlying health conditions, died on May 2, 2020.

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, no-one from his family was allowed to visit him in his final weeks.

Rosewood Rest Home resident George Hollings died from Covid-19 in May 2020.

It was an extremely difficult time, his eldest son Steve Hollings says.

And it was made worse by the actions of officials at Rosewood, who were unable to explain how Covid-19 got into the facility, he says.

“I feel like they had a duty of care to my father, and they failed. They didn’t say sorry, they didn’t offer us flowers. It was heartless – cold, cold, cold.”

If you’ve lost a loved one to Covid-19, and you would like to share their story, you can email Stuff at newstips@stuff.co.nz

More than two years on, Hollings, 48, remains stricken with grief at the loss of his father.

“If he’d just died of old age, like natural causes, it wouldn’t have been so difficult. In my world, he should still be here. People tell you to get over it, but … I probably never will.”

Two years on from his father’s death, Steve Hollings is still stricken with grief.

George Hollings, the eldest of three children, was born in Leeston, 30 kilometres southwest of Christchurch, several years before the outbreak of World War II.

He went on to have three sons, and was married to their mother for about 30 years before they separated.

A fitter and turner by trade, Hollings was a “real Kiwi bloke – a rough diamond, who loved his deer stalking”, his family said.

When he wasn’t hunting, he spent time fixing crashed cars, building houses and watching rugby.

But in his late 60s, Hollings developed dementia.

His condition deteriorated, and in about 2017, his family made the decision to put him into Rosewood, where his sister had previously worked.

12 Rosewood Rest Home residents died from Covid-19 after an outbreak in 2020.

Steve Hollings said the care his father received at the 64-bed rest home in Linwood, prior to Covid-19, was great.

“He really enjoyed it there. I felt he was well looked after.”

Hollings was a regular visitor to Rosewood. But that ended when the rest home closed its doors to family members about a week before the country was plunged into level 4 lockdown at 11.59pm on March 25, 2020.

On April 3, a resident at the rest home tested positive for Covid-19. Several days later, as a growing number of others connected to Rosewood tested positive, the Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) temporarily took over management of the facility. The same day, Hollings got a call to say his father was one of 20 residents from the Hennessy Wing – the hospital level care dementia unit – who were being moved to Burwood Hospital. He wasn’t very well and was considered a probable case. His chances of survival were 50/50.

20 Rosewood residents, including George Hollings, were transferred to Burwood Hospital.

Over the coming weeks, as the Rosewood cluster’s Covid-19 death toll climbed, Hollings clung to hope his father would make it out alive.

“I wanted to see him, I didn’t know if he would make it or not, but the Government wouldn’t allow it, even with PPE, which I think is pretty crap. It’s not their father who was in there, suffering.

“In the end he just burned up – you could fry an egg on him. He was just on morphine in the last hours. The charge nurse who was on shift sat there and held his hand to the end. I guess he chose the most compassionate staff to look after him.”

Hollings said Covid-19 restrictions made organising a funeral for his father difficult – only 10 people were allowed to gather under level 3 – so there wasn’t one.

“It was straight in a coffin, off to the crematorium, Merry Christmas, see you later. I hardly think that’s fair. He wasn’t able to die with dignity.”

However, Hollings and his family didn’t want his father to be “known as a statistic … or a number” – at the time he was considered the 20th Covid death in New Zealand – so they took the unusual step of releasing his name to media via the Ministry of Health.

“He deserves to have his name out there, so everyone knows who he was.”

In total, 12 Rosewood residents linked to the cluster died from Covid-19, including nine of those who were transferred to Burwood.

Hollings said he couldn’t speak highly enough of the care his father received at Burwood: “Amazing.”

Rosewood, on the other hand: “They are ultimately responsible for his death. It doesn’t matter what anyone else says, it’s how I feel. That was his home and he should have been safe.”

Te Whatu Ora Waitaha Canterbury, formerly the CDHB, previously said “extensive investigations” had not established how Covid-19 was introduced into the facility.

The first resident to test positive was most likely infected by an asymptomatic healthcare worker, a spokesperson said.

Rosewood Rest Home changed hands earlier this year and is now known as Rosewood Lifecare.

Mike Kyne, speaking on behalf of former Rosewood owner Malcolm Tucker, said Tucker “again offers his sincere condolences to the families who experienced the loss of a loved one”.

Tucker believed that either he or the rest home’s manager contacted the family of all residents who died during the Covid-19 outbreak, Kyne said.

It was usual for them to communicate with a designated family member, he said.

“Malcolm reiterates that very early in the outbreak, many of the residents at Rosewood were transferred to Burwood Hospital under the jurisdiction of the CDHB who thereafter took over the full duty of care and notification process for those residents.”

Stuff previously reported that an internal investigation by Rosewood found no breaches of its policies and procedures by managers or staff before the DHB took over on April 6.

Steve Hollings, pictured with his daughter, Sharkira, wishes he’d had longer with his father.

The DHB appointed a temporary manager at the rest home after becoming concerned about its ability to cope with the outbreak.

At the time, most of Rosewood’s staff were considered close contacts and had to self-isolate, meaning it was unable to fulfil the obligations of its Aged Residential Care contract, the DHB said.

Steve Hollings accepts that his father – who he remembers for his laughter and stubborn nature – may only have had months left to live, but his life was still cut short by Covid-19.

He just wishes he’d had a chance to say goodbye.