Campaigning for Sue Bolton brought the issue of elder care into stark relief for Susan Price.
Out door-knocking for Sue Bolton in Moreland during the local council elections, we came across a dilapidated block of flats in an otherwise gentrified part of Brunswick.
One of the last doors in the block was answered by an elderly man still in his pyjamas, breathless and clearly in distress. All he could manage to say was, “Can you please call someone?” I took one look at him and said, “Are you ill? Would you like us to call an ambulance?” He nodded.
While my friend phoned for an ambulance, I asked if I could come in. I sat the man down in a chair and passed on information to the operator on his condition. He managed to tell me his name was Sam and that he was 82 year’s old.
Sam was living alone in a small, one-bedroom flat. Dominating his lounge room were three unusable (pre-digital) television sets stacked on top of each other, a bar heater that was clearly broken (the only heater in the flat), a small dining table, a couch and one or two lounge chairs.
Sam told me he had been sick for the past five days. He had been prescribed some antibiotics by a local doctor but had stopped taking them because they made him sick.
When I asked if he had eaten anything, he told me he had “a bit of chicken” the night before. The only food I could see on the table was a packet of Italian biscuits and the remnants of cups of tea.
When the paramedics arrived, it became clear that Sam was seriously ill. His oxygen levels were dangerously low, his heart rate erratic and his chest infection serious.
While the paramedics prepared to transport Sam to hospital, we set about gathering up a few items for him such as his pension card and his front door keys, while checking to make sure nothing was left on that might be dangerous. I opened Sam's fridge before I locked up. In it was a plate with some slices of mortadella on it, but not much else.
Aside from a feeling of relief we had knocked on Sam's door that day and wondering what might have happened if we had not, an overwhelming feeling of sadness and anger took over both of us. We shed some tears for Sam's plight and that of other elders in our community, behind closed doors and out of sight.
Local council is the level of government closest to the community and it should play a key role in supporting our elders as well as other vulnerable members of the community. The prevailing culture that individualises care — including forcing people to be reliant on their family members — is grossly insufficient and costs lives. The pressure on local councils to further privatise and outsource services will only increase the burden on families.
Neoliberalism has infected all aspects of our lives, from cradle to grave. Having elders stay in their home for as long as possible requires proper resourcing of the range of community outreach and support services needed.
Councillors like Sue Bolton have been instrumental in the fight to protect services in Moreland. Mooted changes to the Victorian Local Government Act and the inadequate funding of councils by the state government will result in more pressure to privatise and outsource council services. A discussion needs to be started about where the priorities for a council lie.
“Community need, not developer greed” is not just a slogan, but sums up what is at stake.