The following satirical piece was written by a nurse aid with nursing home experience in the Australian aged care market. It gives a view of the system from a disgusted worker at the bottom of the pile - one with little chance of changing the system.
Over a decade since the original article was written and sadly, still relevant. It drives home the fact that in many homes, management's prime interest is the amount of money that can be squeezed from the care of the residents. Some call it "wrinkle ranching".
It needs no further introduction. For obvious reasons the name of the author is withheld and forgotten.
Life within 'People farms'
Imagine a farmer’s delight if he had a permanent crop that produced a dividend all year round. A crop that was not dependent on rain or weather conditions did not need sunlight or fresh air to increase crop growth and needed no great expenditure on fodder or fencing. Sound too good to be true, well there is such a crop and many farmers along with their professional counterparts are reaping the benefits. People are the crop, and people farming has become a very lucrative business in Australia today.
People farms are one of the only businesses in Australia today where if the stock is not on the property, the farm still makes a profit. Because a people farm receives funding for each of its animals and must retain a place for them if the animal gets sick and requires hospitalisation, the farm still receives funding for that animal. But others also can then make a profit from that animal particularly if the animal has private health cover or is a recipient of a Department of Veterans Affairs benefit. This enables an animal to be placed in a hospital to undergo tests or treatment that may or not be needed.
Many of the farm animals on people farms are already suffering from illnesses such as dementia and spend much of their time in a confused state of mind, but are placed into hospitals to undergo expensive tests with the diagnosis of confusion for investigation. While it is noted that an infection may cause confusion among the elderly, why are they not diagnosed and treated for infections on the farm? A simple thermometer will tell a doctor if the patient has a temperature and a blood test can tell the type of infection. But there is more money to be made by lengthy admissions to hospital and the running of tests.
One other advantage of a people farm is that if the animal becomes too old and frail to eat, unlike the conventional farm, the animal is not put down in a humane fashion. It is simply taken into hospital to have a feeding tube surgically inserted this can prolong its life for several months or even years. And when it becomes inevitable that the animal will die anyway, the tube is removed to allow the animal to slowly starve to death.
There are two specific types of 'people farms' in operation today - government run farms and private sector run farms, each run under government formulated guidelines for standards to be met by each facility. These standards represent the minimal standard of care required for a facility to continue to run and receive government funding and accreditation, and each facility must prove that it meets the minimum standard of care by filling out specific paperwork on each of their stock. The more paperwork required to be filled out by the farm hands equates to the less time spent on care for the animals.
Funding also depends on the amount of attention required by each of the specific farm stock. If the stock can care for itself, then the funding from the government is less than the funding for the stock that can not care for its self, also if the stock is continent less funding is issued to the farm. Therefore people farmers promote methods of making their stock incontinent and more dependent on their farm labourers to increase their amount of government funding per animal.
Over the past decade the government standards have dropped significantly. Government facilities were once run on a ratio of one farm labourer per every four-farm animal with private sector farms running at one labourer per six animals. These ratios allowed for complete and proper care for the farm animals. Including the correct grooming and activities to enhance the welfare, health and independence of their stock.
The labour force was made up of state enrolled nurses who had trained for a year in health care and were overseen by a registered nurse fully trained all aspects of health care and medication administration
Now, government run people farms run on a ratio of one farm hand to eight animals, while private sector farms run on one labourer to twelve animals. These changes significantly reduce the amount of time spent with each animal. This seriously reduces the amount of proper care provided to the animals, washing and grooming is rushed. Even the simple task of taking the animal to the toilet is rushed so that if the animals either cannot go on command, they are placed in a nappy and left to soil themselves.
Staffing is now made up of personal carers, people who have had a few weeks training in TAFE collages, a few state enrolled nurses, but these are being reduced in an effort to reduce operating costs and increase profits. Overseen by a registered nurse, however in the private sector, many people farms are reducing the registered nurses to two hours per day just to give medications to the stock.
Allowing pre-packaged medication to be administered by the personal carers is further reducing the need for the registered nurse. It must be noted that with pre packed medication that there is no spare medication so if the animal spits out the medication it is picked up off the floor and re-fed to the animal, or if it is lost then the animals does not receive vital medications. It must also be pointed out that authorities, such as a nursing board, do not regulate personal carers and that if medication errors occur resulting in death of an animal, the personal carers are not accountable to anyone.
The ratios of farm hands to animals change throughout the day, only the morning shift or what is termed as the 'shower shift', will these ratios be current. It is the morning shift that is charged with getting the animals out of bed, showered, dressed and have their beds made by 11.00am. An average of twenty minutes to feed, shower, dress, groom and make the bed for each animal.
The afternoon shift has significantly fewer staff, as their duties are to return the animal to its bed, change its incontinent pad and feed them the evening meal. While the night shift on the farm may have as little as two farm hands per one hundred to one hundred and thirty animals, their duties are to turn the animals every two hours do all the paperwork required for the farm to achieve maximum funding for the animals.
As these staff members only see the sleeping animals, they are deemed the most appropriate people to do the assessments. In the event of a fire or other life-threatening emergency it is the responsibility of the night shift to evacuate the building. With such high ratios, this can only be achieved by leaving the weakest animals to their own fate or hoping that the fire crew that arrive has a large crew for evacuation.
It is also the duty of the night staff to pick several animals to be woken early, showered and sat up, to assist the day shift. Although according to government standards this is not supposed to happen, it regularly occurs on most people farms due to the time restraints placed on the day staff.
As far as the accreditation teams are concerned, if it is not documented then it did not happen.
While the government bodies demand documented proof of the care and requirements of the livestock on the people farm, they ask little of the farmers to validate the documentation - anything can be written. The accreditation teams cannot prove otherwise. Only by visiting a farm unannounced can they see for themselves the truth of the documentation. However, they are bound by their own rules and only visit a farm after plenty of notice has been given to allow the farm time to prepare for the visit.
How do people become no more than farm animals to be used for profit? It’s as simple as growing old.
For example, an 82-year-old man living alone in a suburb of Melbourne in Victoria supplements his pension by collecting aluminium cans from around his neighbourhood, falls from his pushbike and is taken to the local hospital with minor cuts and abrasions, within 3 months he is dead. What happened to this man?
On his arrival at the hospital not only were his injuries treated, but also the people farmers were called in to assess his ability to remain living in the lifestyle that he was accustomed to. He was asked a series of questions about how he lived, who was the last seven prime ministers of Australia and asked to count backwards from one hundred by sevens - a feat not easily accomplished by most people. He was then admitted to a ward in the hospital especially set aside for aged patients to await placement into a people farm.
Within two months, this mans house was sold and the money taken into trust in order to pay for his accommodation in the farm. Eight per cent of his government pension was also paid directly to the farm he had been placed into. He was placed on medications to control his aggressive behaviour, which had developed due to the fact that he had not wished to be placed in a people farm but had only wanted to return to his own home. He was also placed on medication to counter his depression caused by being removed from his home and his way of life.
This mans daily routine changed from being free to ride his pushbike, to eat when he was hungry, to drink a cup of tea when he wanted, to smoke, to enjoy a beer at the RSL and to be free to come and go as he pleased. To being got out of bed at 05.30am, sat on a toilet and told to shit, showered, dressed and sat on a chair in a cold day room until 08.00am.
At this time, a person would come and force cold porridge with crushed medication into his mouth and then feed him a cup of cold tea. He would then remain on that chair until 11.00am when two other people would come wheel him on a toilet chair into the bathroom and tell him to shit again and returned to his seat in the dayroom. At 12.00 he would be fed a meal of either 2 sandwiches or a meal that had been pre-cooked by a company in the city and delivered to the farm a week earlier and re-heated. He was returned to his bed at 3pm and fed an evening meal at 5pm. Every 2 hours throughout the night he would be woken picked up and turned onto his opposite side, if he protested he would be given medication for his non-compliance to this regime.
This is how he ended his days as commodity for the people farmers.
Who are the prime candidates to be shipped of to people farms? Australia’s sickest and most vulnerable people the frail aged. These are people that are classified by the professional industries such as doctors, social workers or psychiatrists as unfit to be able to care for themselves.
Others may voluntary go into people farms in a bid to save their families the bother of looking after them in their old age, but few have any real knowledge of just what to expect once they are through the doors.
On entry through the doors of a people farm, one will notice that the doors have a coded lock. This code will be changed on a regular basis in order to prevent the incarcerated farm stock from escaping. If you ask the reason for the locks, the farm managers will tell you that due to the high number of residents suffering from dementia the locks is a necessary precaution. But on further investigation you find that inside most people farms, is a further locked area specifically designed for demented and confused residents. So why do they lock in all the residents?
If these people can no longer care for themselves just who is charged with caring for them? 'People Farms' run under the guise of nursing homes, aged care facilities and homes for the aged. Do they live up to their names? Who are caring for the residents?
Governments require each facility to maintain their resident’s dignity, confidentiality and privacy. Does this happen? For a classic example of how dignity is maintained…. Mrs J, an 86 year old resident of a people farm in country Victoria was being taken out for a few hours by her family. When the family arrived to pick up Mrs J she was eating breakfast - she had spilled some of her breakfast on her pants and needed to be changed. She was not returned to her room but instead stood at the table in front of all the other residents while her clothes were changed. So much for her dignity.
Confidentiality and everything about the animal must be documented. For example, who in the free world keeps a record of their shit? Each day on a people farm if a resident manages to shit on command 30 seconds after being woken and removed from their bed. The keeper will document evidence of the size, shape, colour, texture and smell, this then is filed and kept on record along with everything else the resident might do.
Privacy is the one aspect of people farming that the victims can be assured of with most people farms offering single room accommodation and heavy workloads placed on the farm hands, as standard ratios previously mentioned of one farm hand per twelve stock.
" ... The average time spent in company with another human being for a resident is 20 minutes out of 24 hours.
This is the equivalent of the amount of human contact that was granted the prisoners in the worst of the Australian penal settlements of last century ..."
There are many other rights that the stock of a people farm lose, once they enter the doors of the farm. They are no longer allowed to smoke. If a person has smoked a packet of cigarettes a day for most of their lives, once inside a farm with its locked doors they can no longer smoke if they wish, but are forced to go cold turkey and give up. Some may say that this is beneficial in promoting good health but these people are old - a few more cigarettes will not do them any harm.
Due to locked doors, the animals can not come and go as they please, so effectively they also lose their freedom. They have committed no crime but to grow old and are treated worse than criminals in the name of health care.
It is also noted that dollar for dollar, more money is spent on the welfare of criminals than on the aged law-biding citizen.