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.