|Open letter to the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler|
|Monday, 08 October 2012 15:42 | Print page:|
I see that you have created yet another committee. I note that it is called the 'Advisory Panel on Positive Ageing' and it comprises 'a range of eminent Australians with strong expertise in issues facing seniors'.
Could you also create one on 'Negative Ageing'? Because that is what a lot of people in this country are experiencing - especially those who must spend their final years in our residential care facilities where undervalued and hard-pressed staff struggle to respond to the needs of the residents for whom they care?
You see, your government like those before you, has not had the courage to mandate safe staffing levels in aged-care homes.
Many of us therefore think that you must be more concerned about the providers' powerful lobby groups than the vulnerable, frail citizens for whom you are responsible.
I know your Government is fond of 'Panels of Eminent Persons' when there are difficult problems to be solved.
It recently asked one such Panel to solve the hard question of where to process the asylum seekers who reach our shores seeking our protection from corrupt and violent regimes. So perhaps it is not too much to ask for a similar Panel of Famous People to work out how to ensure that all older Australians in residential care receive nourishing meals - rather than a diet of processed food. They might even realise that this could well be their fate in future years.
Such a Panel might be influential enough to remove all the obfuscation around aged care and ensure that there is openness and transparency within the sector so that people can choose a home on the basis of fulsome information about the ownership of the home and with full knowledge of the care that will be provided.
Minister, I note that you have the admirable aim of wishing to 'ensure that the ageing of the population is seen as an asset'. You want to 'harness the economic and social opportunities presented by an older population'.
While I agree that it is very wrong to portray the ageing demographic as a population of tiresome old people who are a burden on the tax payer there are some things about old age that cannot be wished away - such things as the loss of energy and vigour and various conditions which often occur towards the end of life.
You see, the thing is that older people, like any other group, do not want to be defined by either their good health or their disability. And the notion that the key values which define old age are, or should be, fitness and success, is just as ageist as those images of useless, decaying old people that you seek to counteract.
Minister, I wish your 'Advisory Panel on Positive Ageing' every success. But first, could you please put the 'care' back into aged care. You could start by bringing in, and enforcing, decent resident/staff ratios. That should not be too difficult. It would only take a little courage – not even a Panel of Experts!
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