The most recent Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety hearings in Darwin and Cairns highlighted some of the fundamental problems in Australia’s aged care sector – a lack of staff and inadequate staff training – rather than deliberate misconduct or abuse.
The Commission’s most recent hearings were in Darwin from Monday 8 July to Friday 12 July 2019, and in Cairns from Monday 15 July to Wednesday 17 July 2019.
Within three months of entering an aged care facility – with the aid of a walker – one 87 year old woman was dead.
Bertha died from painful and untreated ulcers and skin infections. This included a 14-centimetre long, bone-deep sore on her right shin that turned green with bacteria from lack of appropriate care. Within two days of moving into the facility, in Melbourne, she had the first of three serious falls. The third resulted in a broken arm and caused a largely untreated haemotoma on her right shin that subsequently became infected and contributed to her death.
The Commission heard about ongoing diet and nutrition problems in the care of Shirley, a Wollongong aged care resident, and a lack of good wound care practices.
Shirley has Alzheimer’s disease and has special dietary needs, including a lactose intolerance.
Shirley’s daughter Lyndall reported that she frequently communicated with the facility about Shirley’s diet and weight loss, as well as “the inadequacy of staff’s attention to her feeding and nutrition”. Lyndall said that the issue was about whether staffing and staff training was sufficient to meet her mother’s needs, rather than deliberate misconduct.
Young people rotting in aged care facilities – Sarah’s and Angelina’s stories
The Aged Care Royal Commission also heard heartbreaking stories outlining the issues facing the 6000 plus young people forced to live in aged care facilities. Last financial year alone more than 2,500 Australians aged under 65 were admitted into aged care.
Sarah Brady was 39 and could walk, talk and eat solid food when she was put into a nursing home to share a room with someone in their 90s who could no longer communicate. Sarah has a neurodegenerative disease that affects mobility and speech.
After several serious falls at home her parents were told an aged care residence would be the safest place for Sarah. But they say they soon realised the move was a mistake. Sarah lost her speech and was put into continence diapers every day, not taken to the toilet, and was constantly kept in a wheelchair.
58-year-old Angelina has lived in a room in a locked dementia ward in an aged care residence for three years. The Commission heard that, most days, she’s left in bed all day, with only her television for company. She’s rarely taken out of her room and she doesn’t interact with other residents. Angelina does not have dementia. She has schizophrenia and has a disability.
Sadly, the Commission heard that the most common way for young people to leave an aged care facility is by dying.
Nutrition – malnourished aged care residents starving to death
The other major topic explored in the recent Darwin and Cairns Royal Commission hearings was the need for the aged care system to focus on the individual and their nutritional needs because currently residents are malnourished and starving to death.
A panel of experts told the Commission in Cairns about the dire need to improve nutrition in aged care.
Next hearings – Mildura and Brisbane
The next hearing takes place 29-31 July in Mildura, Victoria, and will focus on informal carers and family. The Brisbane hearing follows 5-9 August with a focus on aged care regulation.
Has this happened to you or a loved one?
If you or a loved one has been subject to any of these issues or general poor-quality care in an aged care facility you can approach the Royal Commission to provide evidence. Our expert, caring health law and elder law team members can also help you to determine if there is a case to seek justice or compensation. Making formal complaints or litigating is an effective way to force aged care facilities to change poor practices for you, your loved one, and other people.