Just the other day a friend drew my attention to the comment below. It is dated January 2018 and is a response to an article in Australian Ageing Agenda (written in November 2015) re one of the many reviews into aged care. It refers to the need for higher staffing levels and more skilled staffing in aged-care homes.

‘Thank you for a very thought provoking read. I am a resident in an Aged care facility. I was looking for proof to back the conclusions I have formed while just sitting and watching. I intend to take my thoughts to the next residents meeting, not that they will listen to me and they will talk loudly over the top of me but I want to be sure that what I have to say is minited (sic). What I am looking for is to establish a paper trail. The staff here is over worked and in danger of burn out. I just hope I can help in some small way to get them the support they need. XX’

Source: Aged care staffing requirements 'too vague' NSW inquiry finds

Now anyone who has anything to do with residential aged care knows that the low staffing levels in most homes is still a huge issue in 2018. In fact it is a national disgrace. And the scarcity of registered nurses on site is another one.  The many submissions to all the recent inquiries/reviews/investigations attest to this – as do the many responses to articles in Australian Ageing Agenda and other publications.  

However the comment above is stunningly different. Firstly, it is the genuine voice of an aged-care resident – one that is rarely heard. Secondly, it speaks to the general disempowerment of those older people who find themselves in aged care.

Here we have a resident with a huge concern about the well-being of her carers and presumably, therefore, the quality of the care provided to residents. Her chosen means to raise her issue is through the residents’ committee where she acknowledges that her voice will be barely heard but hopes at least for a written record. Note that she/he has no expectation of any action to be taken.

Over the years I have had much experience with resident committees in aged-care homes and retirement villages. It is excruciating to hear the genuine concerns of people with enormous life experience being disregarded and to observe the often patronising response to those who raise matters relating to the home in which they live.

Big issues concerning the care provided or the quality of the food are put in the too hard basket while smaller matters may, or may not, result in some action. Perhaps a suggestion for a herb garden might be taken on board. Or maybe the happy hour drinks and nibbles need a bit of a makeover. No problems! Doing something about poor food or substandard care  .. well that is another matter.

One of my dear friends (now deceased) lived in a large retirement village on the outskirts of Melbourne. Sue was a woman of many talents. In her professional life she had been a social worker – one who specialised in empowering people with disabilities. She would never have dreamt that she would find herself so disempowered when she reached old age. With a sharp mind, but complex health issues, she looked to the residents’ committee, to raise matters which concerned her in that large retirement complex.

Because had been strong all her life she did not accept the many platitudes that were offered at those meetings and kept seeking solutions. Before long she was labelled a troublemaker and the retribution began.  It took the form of copious note taking by staff about everything she said and did, an attempt to get her to move, and the spread of rumours about her cognitive capacity.  These actions, which were punishment for raising concerns and supporting others within that community, made her last year or so an absolute misery.  

It is time that we stopped doing things to old people and started working in partnership with them. Giving real power to these pathetic resident committees that abound in aged-care homes and retirement villages would be a start.       

Comments  

#2 Aged Care Crisis 2018-05-11 00:33
Well said Bridgette, we absolutely agree.

Aged Care Crisis is pressing for a locally based empowered visitors scheme supported by, working with and directly accountable to local community organisations – organisations that would be working in the community and in nursing homes, so in regular contact with management. This would ensure transparency because we would have the information. There would be a representative body working with government. With this shift in power, we, as a community, should be able to insist that providers of care stop ignoring us and instead work with us to develop the sort of system we want.

Professor Ian Maddocks, Senior Australian of the year (2013), advocated for a similar change to aged care in 2014. This was to be led by the medical profession and involve community. His colleagues did not support him. We think it is time for the community to step up, take the lead, insist on this sort of change - then involve the medical profession in supporting us so that we can realise Maddocks’ community driven vision for aged care.

We have explained in previous submissions made to other inquiries that both community visitors and advocates need to be ‘liberated’ from the shackles imposed by regulation, distance and funding. Funding can easily be withdrawn by government and so inhibit effective action. They need to be given investigative powers.

They should be empowered by new regulation that:

• places them in regular attendance at nursing homes as part of a community led process,
• recruits people with and gives others the skills needed
• gives them investigative powers,
• makes them accountable to local communities and in doing so
• releases them from government funding constraints.

In the nursing homes and community they will be talking with staff, residents and families so will know what is happening and where to look.

We can send you some information around this and our proposals if you like?

Lynda Saltarelli.
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#1 Bridgette Pace 2018-05-10 22:10
The most distressing thing about this article, apart from the obvious, is that substandard care is still very much an issue decades after these types of complaints have been raised. This says a number of things -

a) that legislators/government do not care about the plight of the aged;

b) aged care is a cash cow for the many providers using head counts to fatten their purses;

c) public servants are incapable of overseeing compliance and fail in their duties to address & prevent breaches and acts of abuse that occur in nursing facilities;

d) an oppressive culture of "them and us" is endemic in nursing facilities with managers of the facilities focusing on the healthy bottom line instead of the wellbeing of their residents;

(e) that policy makers are comprised of personnel who have no direct experience or any understanding of special needs of the elderly but are simply pen pushers who come up with stupid and irrelevant ideas and policies that neither ameliorate nor protect the residents.

(f) when providing funding, the Govt. callously places a tick on the board and then disassociates itself from any oversight of how the funding is spent.

Change will only occur with the creation of a fully independent investigative body with formidable powers to act upon and instigate proceedings to bring legal sanctions upon those who mistreat and violate residents/their families/staff.

The elderly, whether in a nursing facility or living in the community DO NOT HAVE an effective, competent, professional and highly experienced advocacy body to act on their behalf. They need a Residents' Advocacy Body which can provide that service with Govt. endorsement.

What I have seen over the years is toothless tigers, hyperbole, smoke and mirrors by parties of all persuasions feeding from the govt. trough. Community legal centres and other entities who have sought reform receive gag clauses and threats of withdrawal of funding. The fact is, there has never been a politician in the corridors of power , past or present,with the moral fortitude, courage and care to ensure that legislators mandate safeguards and legal remedies to protect our most vulnerable citizens.

Shame on them all.
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