Politicians generally profess much empathy for frail older Australians. They like to visit aged-care homes – usually when making some funding announcement. They front up to homes at election time and seek photo opportunities with happy, smiling, older people.
We hear the rhetoric over and over again - that Australia has the best aged-care system in the world - no matter which side of politics is in government. And yet one always has the feeling that, in spite of the various statements of support, often there is little real understanding of what it might be like to be very old, frail and needing assistance to achieve the most basic of tasks.
If true empathy was truly felt then surely our politicians, health bureaucrats, and even our Productivity Commissioners, would not find it so hard to support the introduction of mandatory minimum staff/resident ratios. How hard is it to imagine what it must feel like to wait for hours for scarce and undervalued aged-care staff to provide the attention you need? Not to be able to manage toileting, showering or eating meals without help is not something that any of us should take lightly.
Aged Care Crisis hears on a daily basis of the despair that family members feel when they see their loved ones unable to access the care they need. When aged-care horror stories hit the headlines, almost always low staffing levels are at the bottom of the crisis. No-one was around to see the abuse! Neglect occurred because there was not enough staff to feed residents or to provide the care that would prevent a painful bedsore – or whatever!
Yet the weasel words just keep on coming. Providers need 'flexibility'. Or 'every situation is different' and it is therefore impossible to find a staffing formula to suit all situations. There are many variations on this theme. And yet no-one wants to take away 'flexibility'! We are talking about MINIMUM, safe staffing. One person for 80 residents at night is not a safe staffing level. Most people I meet in the public domain are genuinely shocked when they are told that there is no mandated minimum staffing levels in aged care.
Getting back to Productivity Commission and their recent draft report, Caring for Older Australians, I am genuinely shocked that they could read more than 500 submissions, investigate the sector and still not see the need for set ratios.
The only conclusion I can come to is that these Commissioners, who were given the task of making important recommendations for the reform of the sector, could not find it within themselves to imagine what it might be like to be very old and frail and waiting and waiting for the most basic help. Either that or they just did not have the courage to make a stand against the providers who were in their ear and the politicians who only care about the bottom line.