Systemic failures in aged care require new approach

May 5, 2021
Photo: Pixabay

There are some things, many things actually, that reflect a government’s basic commitment — or not — to people and community. On almost all fronts — First Nations peoples, refugees, mental health and women’s right to be safe at work — the record of Australian governments is not good.

This month, the shocking neglect and abuse of the aged community has come to the fore as the federal government prepares to respond to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, tabled in federal parliament on March 1.

The long-awaited final report titled Care, Dignity and Respect, calls for fundamental reform. “The extent of substandard care in Australia’s aged care system reflects both poor quality on the part of some aged-care providers and fundamental systemic flaws with the way the Australian aged-care system is designed and governed,” it said, adding: “People receiving aged care deserve better. The Australian community is entitled to expect better."

For those of us who work in the sector, or who care for ageing family members, the report is no surprise. If you rely on the government rhetoric, then things seem just fine. It makes a lot of noise about older folk being able to age in their homes for as long as possible. This, it is claimed, is possible due to the great array of home-care packages it has made available.

The reality is the opposite. The report reveals that last year, at least 16,000 people died while on the waiting list for home care. A total of 120,000 people are waiting for this care, the result of a lack of funding.

For those who do receive home care, the transparency of fees and charges are major concerns.

One of the submissions came from a woman who described herself as initially being “over the moon” when her mother – who has dementia – was allocated the highest level care package (Level 4 is equivalent to $50,000 per year).

However, she was later shocked to realise that this equated to just nine hours of support a week. Moreover, nearly $19,000 (38%) of the funds allocated each year went to administration.

While thousands have died waiting for home-care packages, others have been forced into aged-care facilities — very much against their will — as they are assessed as no longer being able to remain safely at home.

It is hardly surprising that people fear moving into aged care when they’ve seen all the reports of abuse and neglect. The report would reinforce this concern; it documents severe understaffing leading to malpractice.

One report indicated that most nursing homes would score just one star in a five-star rating system based on the amount of nurse and carer time provided to each resident.

A submission from a Department of Health officer tasked with assessing applications from aged-care service providers described eight out of every 10 applicants as “bottom feeders”.

“There’s a very large cohort of companies that I believe sees home care as a business opportunity and not much more than that,” she told the Commission. “It makes me angry, it makes my team angry, that we have to spend extraordinary amounts of time keeping these people out of the sector because, as I’ve said previously, I believe that they’re dangerous.”

Aged care should not be a profit-making opportunity for giant corporations. The profit motive is not founded on dignity and respect. These fundamental principles don’t figure in their estimations and they are rarely held accountable for their actions.

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