Queensland grants exemption to family of sick baby after emotional plea

Darren Cartwright and Catie McLeodNCA NewsWire
Not Supplied
Camera IconNot Supplied Credit: News Corp Australia

Queensland health officials have backflipped and granted an exemption to the family of a sick baby to allow them to quarantine together when they return from NSW.

Jessie Evans and Billy Blacker were desperate not to be separated from one another or from their seriously ill four-month-old, Rocka, who has been in hospital in Sydney.

Queensland Health initially rejected their plea to be able to quarantine on their rural property in Jandowae, 250km west of Brisbane, despite Angel Flight offering to take them directly there.

Mr Blacker was told he would have to go into hotel quarantine in Brisbane at his own expense, while Ms Evans would have to quarantine in hospital with Rocka.

But the state’s health officials on Thursday evening announced they had reversed their decision, following an emotional plea from the family to the media.

“Queensland Health has granted an exemption for Mr Blacker, Ms Evans and their son that will allow them to quarantine together as a family, under the care of Children’s Health Queensland,” a spokeswoman said.

Jessie Evans, Billy Blacker and Baby Rocka
Camera IconJessie Evans and Billy Blacker with their four-month-old son Rocka in Double Bay. Justin Lloyd Credit: News Corp Australia

Rocka had been receiving treatment in Sydney for his spinal muscular atrophy type 1 when the Queensland government closed its border to NSW.

“Having a sick baby, you definitely need each other. The help’s definitely appreciated and just to have each other there to support each other is a big thing,” Ms Evans told Sunrise on Thursday.

Jessie Evans, Billy Blacker and Baby Rocka
Camera IconRocka’s family travelled to NSW for medical treatment for him. Justin Lloyd Credit: News Corp Australia

Earlier on Thursday, Queensland Health was accused of stonewalling and being the “toughest” to deal with when trying to bring stranded children home.

Angel Flight chief executive Marjorie Pagani said Queensland Health’s exemptions unit always responded with “no” to initial requests to fly into the state and had become the most “frustrating” to deal with nationwide.

She said after each request, Angel Flight lodged Covid-safe protocols to convince Queensland Health to agree to a transfer, unlike NSW, where there had been no issues and very few with either Victoria and South Australia.

“The first response from the exemptions team is always ‘no’,” Ms Pagani said.

Angel Flight chief executive officer Marjorie Pagani said Queensland Health’s exemption unit was the most frustrating to deal with nationwide. Supplied
Camera IconAngel Flight chief executive officer Marjorie Pagani said Queensland Health’s exemption unit was the most frustrating to deal with nationwide. Supplied Credit: News Corp Australia

“Each one starts off with a negative response and that’s not only for children, but includes the internationals who have come in to see dying mothers and fathers.

“We haven’t had any trouble with NSW and we have some positive responses from Victoria and South Australia.

“It is frustrating because we know the anguish these families are going through and we feel their pain. They (Queensland Health) are the toughest to deal with.”

Following the not-for-profit’s mercy flight last week to return three-year-old Memphis Francis – who had been stuck on his grandparents’ farm in rural NSW for eight weeks – to his parents’ Queensland home in Hervey Bay, there had been further requests for assistance, Ms Pagani said.

Memphis & Mum
Camera IconRelieved mother Dominique Facer carries Memphis after they were reunited by Angel Flight last Friday. Since then, more people have reached out to Angel Flight for assistance. Credit: News Corp Australia, Lachie Millard

She said aircraft was ready to return 10-year-old Nate from Orange, where he has been on his grandfather’s farm for three months, and desperately ill Rocka, who had been receiving treatment at Sydney Children’s Hospital in Randwick.

Ms Pagani said approval had been received for immunocompromised Rocka to return to Brisbane, but not to his family farm at Jandowae, in the Western Downs Region, where he would be safer.

Nate, who went to his grandfather’s during the school holidays in June, can return but must do 14 days’ mandatory hotel quarantine, his mother Kaycee told Seven’s Sunrise on Thursday.

“The standard letter from the exemptions team is they do not provide reasons for their denial,” Ms Pagani said.

“In both cases, for these two boys, we have aircraft waiting to go.

“He (Rocka) is immunocompromised and would be much safer to be isolated on a family farm at home than in Brisbane.”

The plight of both boys has not been lost on Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, who has demanded the exemptions unit get its act together and work faster and “do better”.

Camera IconQueensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says Queensland Health’s exemptions unit knows it needs to, and must, do better. NCA NewsWire/Jono Searle Credit: News Corp Australia

Her government was embarrassed last week when the plight of Memphis was made public and it was revealed that his family’s requests to bring him home had been rejected.

“It’s absolutely tragic and should have progressed faster,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

“Queensland Health knows it needs to do better and they will do better.

“They are working through all options with the family (of Rocka).

“Whilst compassion is needed with individual cases with Queensland, we also need to make sure we are keeping Queensland safe.”

She said an outbreak in NSW was still a serious threat and Queensland Health had the safety of all Queenslanders at heart when making these decisions.

“The reason we have an exemptions unit … is to keep Queensland safe. It (the outbreak in NSW) is a clear and present danger to Queensland,” she said.

“We also acknowledge there are people who have extenuating needs.”

Originally published as Queensland grants exemption to family of sick baby after emotional plea

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