One of my mother’s favourite expressions, articulated with great regularity while I was growing up, is that ‘patience is a virtue’. This is because I am not naturally a patient person and have been known to express my frustration loudly on occasion, even as a child.
My experiences as a grown up, navigating the bureaucracy of Aged Care in this country, have tried my patience to the point of frustration more times than I can count. And there are so many frustrations this blog post is going to have to be a series, not just one.
I hate that I occasionally cry out of frustration – it seems so shrill and weak. It is like all the patience has been sucked out of me leaving a vacuum that only loud, angry and ugly tears can fill. It comes to this I think because the high expectations I have of service providers are not met, especially at times of already high stress. In the case of Aged Care, it happens far too frequently.
As Shakespeare once said:
Expectation is the root of all heartbreak.
Some years ago, Dear Old Dad had the misfortune to contract shingles – in his eye of all places. We got on to it very quickly and while it was very painful, he bravely put up with it, along with the news that ointment had to be applied 4-5 times a day. Because he has shaky hands, he couldn’t manage this himself, although his cheeks, nose and ears managed to get some of the good stuff. Working full-time, it was only possible for me to do this for him morning and night. His GP wrote a referral to an in-home aged care service provider, let’s call them XYZCare, and arrangements were made for a nurse to pop in twice a day to apply the ointment. ‘Simples’, as the meerkat on TV says.
Things have changed significantly since then with the advent of a Behemoth called My Aged Care, which has created a level of bureaucracy, form filling and tail-chasing that would make the writers of Yes, Minister proud. In the words from their own website:
“The My Aged Care website has been established by the Australian Government to help you navigate the aged care system. My Aged Care is part of the Australian Government’s changes to the aged care system which have been designed to give people more choice, more control and easier access to a full range of aged care services.”
The emphasis is mine. Sadly, the fact that ‘navigation’ is needed at all speaks volumes. It has not been mhy experience that access is easier. In fact from an outside perspective, it appears to have made it much more difficult.
Somewhat fortuitously, being the practical person he is, Dad mentioned about 12 months ago, that should it be necessary for him to go into a residential aged care facility (let’s not call it nursing home) at any stage, there was a particular one in which he would like to live. Having had some experience assisting my elderly neighbour with this process, I knew it was not as simple as ringing up and asking for a room, as you would a hotel. So an ACAT (Aged Care Assessment Team) assessment was organised, through My Aged Care (sobs), and I helped him complete the 28 page means test form, via another government department , both of which were sent off to the
nursing home residential facility for his name to be put on the list. This took quite a while as the ACAT assessor didn’t come for several weeks. I gather they are very busy. And the fact that I really really do not want Dad to ever go into a nursing home residential aged care facility so the forms sat on my desk for some considerable time.
Most importantly, once done, the ACAT assessment approved Dad for a number of things including residential care, respite care, in–home nursing care, as well as an in home domestic care package. Until recently we had no reason to avail ourselves of these services other than nursing care. And Dad did tell the assessor that he didn’t need any help anyway because he had me, and he doesn’t like being a burden on the taxpayer. Bless.
When Dad developed an ulcer on his leg last year, it became necessary for daily dressing changes. Optimistically, I called XYZCare who had previously assisted Dad with his ointment, to get the ball rolling, and said, again optimistically, that I would get the referral from the GP as soon as possible.
This time, (and every time in future), I was told, I had to call My Aged Care, wait on hold for a period of time then be transferred a few times, get a referral from them for the nursing care, which was sent to XYZCare’s Head office, who told me that the local service provider (whose phone number I had) would then ‘pick up’ the referral from their system. I asked that it be designated urgent, given that the dressings had to be changed daily, commencing immediately.
The local XYZCare office is a 15 minute drive from my house, yet this process took a whole week (I would hate to think how long non urgent requests take) and after three increasingly agitated telephone calls from me, before I had a call from them. In the meantime, Dad to the local GP to get the dressings changed daily.
But wait, there’s more.
Even though he had previously been a client, they had closed that file, so had to come out and ‘assess’ him (even though we had a specialist report on the ulcer and its care, and the ACAT assessment), before the services could be put in place. My eyes rolled so many times with each phone call and delay, I swear I started seeing behind my own head. Dad also didn’t understand as most of the questions were the same questions asked by ACAT.
This is not a criticism of XYZCare, but of the tangled red tape and hoops they, and the elderly they are trying to help, have to jump through, to get services in place.
Things went downhill from there. Part II coming soon. Suffice to say my desk has a dent in it.