The issue of retribution has repeatedly been brought up in multile inquiries and little, if anything, has been done let alone acknowledge the existence of retribution or implement measures to address it. 

Academics have had their research criticised and their universities have been asked to discipline them.   There are the whistleblowers who have been fired because they blew the whistle when management refused to believe that other staff were raping patients, or in another instance covering up a death due to inadequate supervision. 

A worrying problem is the incidence of retribution or fear of retribution for those who complain or speak out about problems for residents.  Staff who report deficiencies within the system or draw attention to incidents of neglect or abuse, are frightened that they might lose their employment, have the number of shifts reduced, or suffer other punitive consequences.  ACC is aware of several incidents where this has occurred. 

Nurses who complain to management are particularly at risk and if they dare speak out when their complaints are ignored they lose their jobs. It is one of the main reasons why nurses, family and residents elect not to lodge complaints or withdraw those they have lodged.  Many of those who are dissatisfied with their care, or the care of a loved family member, fear that making a complaint will jeopardise their well-being or that of their relative. 

The QADA Annual Report 2013-14 expressed significant concern about the increasing number of older people fearful of retribution who have chosen not to proceed with advocacy support or to lodge a complaint.  Accurate data collection will not be possible until this issue is adequately addressed. Our proposal for a Community Aged Care Hub is intended to do that.

Instead of addressing findings and criticisms or engaging with critics, family members who correspond with us are absolutely fearful of retribution.  Some feel bullied by nursing homes when they complain about aged care.  Others have been threatened with very legalistic letters and others have had access to their relatives under threat or care to loved ones has been compromised. 

One experienced Registered Nurse’s account of working in a nursing home I am sorry ‘Mary’ I could not help you illustrates the difficulties for staff working in aged care, and provides an insight as to why many good staff leave the sector.

Speaking out about failures is always stressful and confronting. This is an issue that needed to be confronted, carefully examined and investigated and remediation attempted by the commissioners if they were to make the system work for the residents as well as the providers.

Example 1:  Retribution - a (very) sad affair

Over the years there have been many complaints to inquiries and comment in the press to the effect that residents and families don't complain because they are frightened of victimisation. This is something we might have expected the Productivity Commission’s Inquiry Caring for Older Australians to give attention to and do something about.

Decide what you think of the level of concern and empathy in the responses to Ms Clark, an 89-year-old resident who was critical of care. It was not what was said but what was not said and might have been said that concerns ACC.  Ms Clark was scared to complain to the Accreditation (now Quality) Agency because the nursing home would know she had done so.  Ms Clark also indicated that others in the facility were also frightened.

MS CLARK: Well, for me it's not hard, but for most of the residents, it is hard. They will not make a complaint because they're afraid of being thrown out and they will be regarded in disfavour, if you like, by the staff. They will not complain.

..."Anyway, I make complaints, but the thing is, nothing gets changed. I've been chairman of the residents' committee and I resigned the other day because whatever you put forward, they say they're going to address this, they're going to address that. Nothing changes..."

MS MACRI: Were you able to sit down with the auditors and have a chat to them quite independently?

MS CLARK: No, I wasn't. I don't know why. I think we were able to put our names forward if we wanted to see anybody but I didn't because I knew that if they got any negative feedback, then they would know it came from me, because nobody else would speak out. So I backed out of that unfortunately. I don't intend to do that again.

MS MACRI: That's a bit sad, isn't it?

Source: PC Inquiry - Caring for Older Australians 2nd day transcript - Canberra,  6 Apr 2011

Commissioners might at least have empathised with residents in this position instead of dismissing their failure to expose themselves to these pressures as "a bit sad".  It’s much more than sad. It’s a tragedy that the Commission failed to adequately confront and address this issue.  It points to major problems in the system that the Commission ignored.

The Commissioners might have explored the reasons why residents were reluctant to speak to the agency and whether there were ways of ensuring that the facility could not identify them. They might have explored why “nothing changes”, something that academics like Bernoth have commented on as well.

Example 2:  Residents acting themselves

Residents themselves are at an even greater disadvantage. If they are unhappy about anything or make allegations, they are considered to have dementia and discounted.  If they do speak out publicly, then staff and management see them as troublemakers and treat them accordingly. 

The lady in the quote below knew she was being robbed, but she had all her marbles in place and had contacts in the surveillance industry. With a hidden "grannycam", video footage was soon in the hands of police.  She is leading the way by doing this in Australia, but in countries with market systems like ours (UK and the USA) CCTV is increasingly being seen as the answer to the problems of elder abuse we are having in nursing homes.

“… When the disabled 75-year-old attempted to report the incident to retirement village company Aveo, they dismissed her claims.

“They thought I had dementia - and for that reason I was a trouble-maker and I would have been making it up,” Ms Jones said.

Unfortunately, elderly people are often preyed upon by fraudsters.

Source: Victorian retiree sets up hidden camera to catch thieving aged care worker  - A Current Affair - Channel 9, 2 Jul 2015

Example 3:  Family members acting themselves

One distraught family member has started an online petition when they suspected a staff member was abusing their 89yo father (who has dementia, bedridden and non verbal) in an aged care home for many months.

Although family raised their concerns to management, they allege these were dismissed.  They were so frustrated and distraught for the safety of their father, they installed video surveillance in his private room and subsequently caught the suspect abusing their father.

The perpetrator was charged with 9 criminal assault charges ranging from recurrent torment, physical abuse and attempted suffocation.  The perpetrator is currently facing the Magistrates Court for conviction and/or sentencing.  The family member’s actions of using a video camera to defend their father has come under scrutiny with allegations of breaching the Privacy Act 1997 and Residential Aged Care Providers policies where video cameras are prohibited in private rooms.

Example 4:  Retribution - 'nothing is ever done'

Despite the introduction of the Aged Care Amendment (Security and Protection) Bill 2007 implementation as a result of the nursing home rapes scandal in 2006, there seems to be a recurring theme then and now to indicate that not much has changed. 

Family members back then, were complaining about how difficult it was for them to find out what happened to their grandmother and how they felt bullied and treated with hostility by a manager and nursing home staff.  We are hearing the same things in 2016.

MARGOT O'NEILL: Within the first year, many of their gran's best clothes had disappeared and her wheelchair had been broken, but when their father complained...

GAIL CHILIANIS: The woman came up to him, the facility manager, and said, "If you don't like it, you know what you can do with your mother-in-law."

MARGOT O'NEILL: Even after their gran was allegedly raped, Deb Chapman says the nursing home manager was hostile when asked to provide better care for their gran.

DEB CHAPMAN, GRANDDAUGHTER: Her response was to put us down as though we were having an unreasonable request. When we walked out that day, mum was still sitting next to Gran. This facility manager went and sat on Gran's bed and suggested that I had a problem and that I needed counselling.

MARGOT O'NEILL: And their experience is not unusual. A Senate committee which reported last year heard extensive evidence of retribution and intimidation in aged care facilities around Australia. It called for a national inquiry to determine the size of the problem.

Source:  ABC Lateline, Aged care abuse reporting scrutinised, 21 Feb 2006

Aged care workers within the home that the assault took place spoke of systematic management cover-ups and bullying of staff members making reports to management. The sentiment expressed was that there was ‘no recourse’; there were no formal mechanisms to follow up staff reports of abuse. “You put into your reports and say this is happening”, one worker is quoted as saying. “Nothing is ever done. It disappears never to be seen again”.

Example 5:  Academics and research

Fear of victimisation has been a recurring theme over the years and it has never been addressed. Many other submissions, such as that given by Dr Bernoth, the day before, would have informed the Commissioners that families and residents were frightened of victimisation if they spoke out about what was happening.

DR BERNOTH:  The other thing that I wanted to talk to you about was the issue of research in aged care and the issue of researching in residential aged care. When Prof Nay published her PhD in the mid 90s she was banned from residential aged care facilities on the mid north coast because her findings were adverse to those wanted by the industry.

I found the same situation when I was doing my PhD and I have been subjected threats of violence, verbal abuse, constructive dismissal.  I've had contracts terminated and we sold our home and moved to another town because of the professional bullying that I was undergoing because I was revealing the outcomes of that PhD research.  Subsequently it's then difficult to get back into residential aged care to do other research, however I have found a wonderful place on the mid north coast that will allow me back in.

Source: PC Inquiry - Caring for Older Australians - 1st day transcript - Canberra,   5 Apr 2011


Examples 1 - 4 (above) all highlight the difficulties in reporting and failure to provide necessary protections.  Under the current system, there are strong disincentives to residents and families speaking out and little incentive for management to make any changes that are going to require more staff, cost money or reduce profits.  Legislation has failed to assist people residing in aged care.

The proposed Community Aged Care Hub would be communicating with patients and family members continuously, getting their views and suggestions, whilst maintaining confidentiality.  The hub would be there for the community and it’s members. It would be watching and protecting any one at risk of victimisation, and there would be strong disincentives to not making changes when things were wrong.

Not only would this work better, but this would help providers as well as prosepctive residents, and they would enhance trust in the system because they would be accountable to them and supported by them as much or more than by providers, who would be under more pressure to participate.

Trust and trustworthiness are essential in a sector like this. Care suffers when participants don't trust one another.

Community should be actively engaged in a cooperative venture where all parties are on the same page, with all information at their fingertips, all focussed on doing something constructive together - dependent on one another.

It is counter-productive to have participants at each others throats, or regulators walking around policing, looking for misconduct.  They should all be focused on a common purpose. They will be collecting information for everyone to look at and discuss and will be contributing thoughts and ideas.

By making for-profit and not-for-profit services part of a wider community enterprise, we bring both back into the community and out of the cultural silo that they are increasingly now both a part of. Those providers who are serving the community will not have anything to fear, and will gain help and support. Those that maintain a silo mentality will find themselves out in the cold and will have a tough time if they don't sort themselves and their community values out. The community must be in a position to act and make the market work.  This is currently not the case.


#7 Aldous Chan 2021-05-30 23:06
It is so terrible for many aged care providers do not give much action to confront the failure of aged care services, especially handling of reporting elder abuse. The current compliant system cannot make improvement significantly. The fear of retribution and other punitive consequences are big hurdles to residents, families and staffs whose intend to make complaint about the failures or abuse cases. It’s so bad many providers and management do not face the problems or take compliant seriously and try to ignore and even threaten the victims, families or staffs. There are too many difficulties in reporting and lack of protections for complainants. It is the time to make change in the culture aged care service. Let elder people and families have paths to speak out their issues in safe and confident manner. Community should give contribution to improve the quality and safety of aged care service and ensure the compliant mechanism is functioning effectively.
#6 Mengmeng 2021-05-23 18:34
It’s so sad to see that abuse in nursing homes for older people is not always reported and sometimes deliberately concealed for whatever the reasons. The management team in nursing home should encourage culture of openness, in which reporting abuse is viewed as an opportunity for improvement. There should be process in place to ensure whistleblowing policies are clear, accessible and include guidance on how to report directly to external agencies.

A lie can hide the truth but it cannot change the truth. The truth always comes out in the end.
#5 Holly 2021-03-15 11:39
When the duty of care isn't given to the resident, the family of these residents have every right to raise any concerns to the company. It is horrible how these residents have been treated and how their families must feel. The management in this industry needs to have better processes in relation to complaints. Although some companies may be good, it is companies like the ones exampled above that lead a negative example.
#4 Lucy Strahan 2020-09-07 15:37
It's sad to think that progress had to be made through these methods. I find it unfortunate that the client's and their families felt the need to go to extreme measures in order to receive justice or change. It's disgusting to imagine that in a care facility basic human rights are being denied and that employees fear for their job when they speak up. I've feared for my job before, but that's for fast food services which often have a high turnover. This is the type of work where I would expect employees to have a high level of job security and not feel afraid to make suggestions to improve the client's experience and promote their quality of life.
#3 vhea umbao 2020-09-02 22:42
it is a frustrating situation for the residents knowing that they don't have a say for the kind of care that they should be receiving. It is never okay to abuse anyone specially the elderly. Acknowledging their complaints and needs is the top most priority, they deserve to be respected and to be given the proper care they need. Recognising the grievances of their family will help the carers to become an efficient and competent in assisting the residents needs.
#2 Jayden Bravo 2020-09-02 22:08
I think it's absolutely terrible that elderly people and nurses themselves are scared to make a complaint as they know there's a good chance they'll be fired (nurses) or kicked out of aged care. It's shocking that nothing gets changed and the aged care facilities don't bother with issues. I think it's so bad that staff think elderly people are 'troublemakers' or may have dementia just because they want to make a complaint. That isn't what should happen and the staff really needs to change and cater more for the people they are looking after. I feel bad for the clients that the staff and management don't take their concerns seriously.
#1 Anne 2020-09-01 22:56
Whether it is the resident or the family of residents - they have the right to voice their concerns when duty of care has not been given to the resident. They should not be made to feel that they will be unfairly treated or be penalised or victimised for speaking up with regards to the abuse or sub-standard treatment that they are being subjected to. They have human rights too!

Maybe, a organisation / body can be created for residents to report issues or voice their concerns to. Their names should become anonymous when investigation is being undertaken by the body with the residence (providers). Hopefully, this will encourage residents or their families to speak up about their concerns / issues.