I write this in a state of mild rage and frustration.
Over the last two weeks The Australian newspaper has published articles about the state of the Aged Care system in our country. Last weekend Rick Morton wrote an article titled ‘Adrift in the Uncertain Market For Aged Care’ and this weekend Andrew Burrell wrote ‘Families Demand Action over aged Care Standards‘. This article is currently paywalled but I will link to it in due course.
It seems the corporatisation of the residential aged care sector, much like the child care sector ( and I use the word ‘care’ lightly in both cases), has resulted in reduction of qualified staff, appalling staff patient ratios, and a quest to make millions out of people least able to speak for themselves, in order to please shareholders.
Some of the examples in this morning’s paper and other investigations are horrendous:
- A woman, whose husband has dementia, drives 40 minutes each way several times a week to visit him, and found him one day, half-naked, sitting in a chair covered in his own excrement. He was not in his room – he was in a public area. She doesn’t know how long he was there.
- The same woman found him one morning in a sodden incontinence pad, and blood on his sheets from a tear in his scrotum.
- Elderly patients left on toilets for hours due to staff shortages and fed pureed party pies in order to cut costs. You can read that horror story here.
- A resident having urine soaked sheets thrown at him; a resident being made to walk, while screaming in pain, with an undiagnosed broken thigh bone; a resident with undiagnosed pneumonia being taken home only to die a week later. Those stories from 2015 are here
- A resident in his mid-eighties left in urine soaked chairs, bed and adult diapers several times, then being sent off to have a circumcision as he kept getting urinary tract infections, and the facility’s doctor thought they would decrease if he was circumcised. The surgery took place while his penis was infected. He died in agony 6 weeks later after contracting blood poisoning. He was my maternal grandfather.
Sadly, a Google search with the words ‘Aged Care horror stories’ brings up pages of results.
My own observational experience, as Power of Attorney for my former neighbour, who is now in a nursing home, is not pleasant. It is a lovely looking facility – lovely grounds, modern and large rooms, aesthetically pleasing. But they are chronically under-staffed and in the last two years staff have changed so significantly that I rarely see or speak to the same person twice. Most of the staff are ‘aged care workers’, and English is rarely their first language. If I can barely understand them, how can elderly, often hard of hearing residents cope? In a 6 week period she went from being able to get around on her own on a wheely walker, to requiring a hoist to get her from the bed to the bathroom. Once in the toilet, she then had to wait for someone to remember to come back and get her off again. No one had called me, but it was obvious to me something significant had happened to her in that 6 week period to cause such a change in mobility.
I firmly believe that there needs to be an emotional connection between the elderly person and the carer or carers in order for appropriate care to be given. All of the stories above are from relatives of the resident – what happens to those who have no one to look after them, or advocate for them?
This is why I am determined to keep my own father in his own home for as long as humanly possible. A nursing home is absolutely a last resort. With the help of providers of in-home care services, this will be possible. For how long, I don’t know. But I hope and pray that his last days will not be spent in any discomfort feeling like no one cares, while shareholders of listed companies in the business of aged care check the stock market every day.