Australian nursing home mogul Peter Arvanitis and his wife, Areti, slipped out of the country almost unnoticed and landed in Greece as relatives of the 38 people who died of Covid-19 in his Epping House home lodged a class action suit against him recently.
The co-owner of Epping Gardens, which came under scrutiny during the first and second waves of the coronavirus crisis, is at the center of the controversy. Care workers at the facility complained that they had been pressured to not test for the virus and an independent review of the situation by Professor Lyn Gilbert and Adjunct Professor Alan Lilly found that the conditions there, as well as at St. Basil’s Homes for the Aged in Fawkner were at what they called an “appalling level” during the worst of the crisis.
The official report of the review stated “These stark numbers do not begin to convey the trauma and grief suffered by all residents, whether or not they developed COVID-19, and the enormous impact on families.”
Arvanitis and his wife left Australia two weeks before Christmas and has reportedly said he is “unable to say when he might return. He had received an exemption on Australia’s blanket travel ban in order to attend to what he had termed “essential business” in Athens.
“(I am) unsure of my return date, depending on business progress here and of course requirements of international travelers returning home. The plan is to be home sooner rather than later,” Arvanitis told the Australian publication The Sunday Age.
The glitzy couple’s mansion in Toorak, which was recently featured in Vogue Living, is a palace-like abode featuring what the magazine called in ints March edition “gluttonous trappings of wealth within a classical framework.”
However, the palatial digs are now on the market and may be worth as much as $40 million, according to real estate experts.
Areti Arvanitis is known for tooling about the city in her Maserati.
Grieving families livid
A number of grieving families are angry that the couple, along with his business partner, Tony Antonopoulos, have so far been able to avoid any repercussions from the 38 deaths at the facility, and are now demanding that Arvanitis return to the country to “face the music.”
Arvanitis and Antonopoulos both own 50 percent stakes in Heritage Care Pty Ltd., which owns ten elderly care homes in the cities of Sydney and Melbourne, including Epping Gardens.
No one at Heritage Care knew of his plans to slip out of the country, including Greg Reee, the chief executive of the firm.
“I did not inform Greg Reeve as my personal business has nothing to do with Heritage Care. I do not have an executive or board role in Heritage Care, and my investment is passive. My private business has nothing to do with any employee of Heritage Care,” Arvanitis was quoted as saying.
“Everything has a price”
However, Arvanitis had resigned as a director of Heritage Care back in September of 2020, when as he said, the searing media attention regarding his extreme wealth and glitzy lifestyle began to be too much. He said at the time that all the attention had become a “distraction to the good work of the staff”.
The mogul said that he is not actively placing his primary property on the real estate market, but added “everything has a price, and only for a significant premium.
“If I was to sell, I have several properties in Toorak and interstate I could move into. My history in real estate demonstrates this as I have sold over 60 properties in the last five years,” Arvanitis added.
Vogue Living portrays palatial home in March edition
Vogue gushed that Mrs. Arvanitis’ bedroom as a “first-floor boudoir that is off-the-charts big, fitted with banks of Gucci-filled cabinets and furnished with one-of-a-kind art and objects commissioned by the Italian fashion house in esteem of her patronage.”
Arvanitis has a history in the Australian health care industry, as the founder and director of the for-profit nursing hime firm Estia. He sold his shares in that concern in 2016 for the cool price of $55 million as it became apparent that it was heading for a rough patch.
He joined Heritage Care in 2019 after selling a chopping center and a thoroughbred horse breeding farm for $21 million.
Sam Agnello is one of the grieving sons who lost a parent to the Covid-19 outbreak at Epping Gardens last July. She was dead within three days of being taken to the hospital.
He says he has never received an apology or even an expression of condolences from anyone at Heritage Health Care as a result of the death of his mother, Carmela, who had been 92 years of age.
“Never taken any responsibility”
Agnellos claims Arvanitis “has never taken any responsibility or shown any compassion. We want him to come back to Melbourne and face up to the families who have been destroyed by this.”
The outbreak there, which remains as Australia’s worst of the entire pandemic, is still undeyinvestigation by the state coroner’s office as well as Work Safe. Australia’s Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner is also in the process of assessing whether or not Epping Gardens even deserves to keep its accreditation as an aged care facility.
Both Epping Gardens and St. Basil’s were told by the authorities that they had been inadequately prepared for the coronavirus emergency and lacked the appropriate infection prevention and control procedures which would have mitigated the effects of the pandemic.
On top top of that, the authorities claimed, the extra staff, which had been hired specifically to help out after the outbreak, were “unsure what to do.”
Back in September of 2020, the Australian newspaper The Age found that Epping Gardens had inexplicably actually let go of staff during the second round of the coronavirus making its way though the facility and had even told workers to delay getting tested for it and to keep working even before they had been told the results of their tests.
It was found as a result of the probe that internal emails said that management had instructed that the carers’ shifts should be cut before the virus spread through the facility and that just six workers were tasked with taking care of a total of 80 residents.
The civil class action lawsuit lodged against Heritage Care alleges that the level of care was part of a pattern of neglect. Tony Carbone, one of the lawyers representing the families stated “These breaches are so grave that no responsible management team could have allowed them to happen, particularly considering the vulnerability of the residents.”
He added that cutting hours for healthcare workers during any pandemic amounted to “gross mismanagement and negligence” and the situation must be thoroughly investigated by the authorities.