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Aged Care Royal Commission Update – Hobart hearing and Newcastle forum

Hobart Hearing

The Royal Commission in to Aged Care Quality and Safety recently held a hearing in Hobart and conducted a Community Forum in Newcastle.

Hobart hearing

The Hobart Hearing inquired into the operations of selected Approved Providers that operate residential aged care facilities in Tasmania and elsewhere in Australia.

The Commission heard more stories of neglect.

Neville King was name an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2018. He is credited with helping develop and spread the widely-used cognitive behaviour therapy. The 74 year old has Huntington’s disease and moved into Glenara Lakes aged care home after his wife’s health also deteriorated.

Dr King’s wife said at the hearing that the care provided to him was so bad “if he was a dog, she’d call the RSPCA”. His condition deteriorated so badly at the facility that he was once found on all fours, rendered delirious by dehydration. Mrs King had to repeatedly push staff at the facility to properly hydrate her husband.

The hearing also heard that older Tasmanians are more likely to be impacted by failing aged care services than mainland seniors because the state has the highest proportion of seniors coupled with a small number of services. Tasmania’s aged care workforce is under pressure.

In another example of the inadequate regulation of the aged care sector, October 2018, the quality agency found Bupa South Hobart failed to meet 32 of the 44 expected outcomes, and only met four of the 17 health and personal care expected outcomes, but continued to operate.

Staff shortages and turnover were also highlighted with a story of one resident 90-year-old resident assisting a 90-year-old blind resident to visit the bathroom. That same resident was also looking after her husband and taking on roles that staff were expected to do including dressing him, assisting with incontinence, washing clothes and making their bed, according to her daughter. The daughter said her parents were often waiting 20 to 40 minutes and in one instance did not get a response at all when using the call bell.

Former staff attested that the model of care at the facility had undergone a transition that resulted in a reduction of staff and nursing hours.

There were also horror stories about Yaraandoo Hostel.

Senior Counsel Assisting the Commission summarised the evidence. It was noted that, in the context of the case studies, the provision of quality care had been insufficiently prioritised in favour of financial considerations, with troubling and disturbing consequences. A familiar story!

Aged Care Royal Commission Newcastle Community Forum, November 27

Meanwhile, people from key regional NSW areas including Newcastle, Lake Macquarie, Hunter Valley and the Mid-North Coast had the opportunity to provide views to Commissioner Lynelle Briggs AO at a community forum in Newcastle.

I was privileged to speak in my capacity as an aged care lawyer and advocate as well as the Australian Lawyers’ Alliance spokesperson on aged care. My speech is here. You may also wish to read the ALA media release here or the opinion piece I wrote for the Newcastle Herald following the release of the Commission’s Interim Report here.

I said to the Commissioner that through my aged care work over the course of the last decade, it is clear that the regulatory regime currently in place is not working. The cases of substandard clinical care I have seen demonstrate failure in governance, accountability, policy and the regulatory framework.

I strongly support the statement made in the Commission’s interim report – that a “fundamental overhaul of the design, objectives, regulation and funding of aged care in this country is required”.

There needs to be an independent tribunal – along the lines of the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission – to hear complaints of substandard care with functions including the hearing of complaints with powers to issue fines; the power to cancel accreditation; to publicly reprimand providers; and to order monetary compensation. Hearings could be conducted by the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal. We also need a new Aged Care Act – one that ensures transparency and accountability.

Community forums are another way that members of the public can engage with the Commission. Forums are taking place in a number of locations around the country. The forums are an opportunity for members of the public to hear about the work of the Commission and to offer their ideas on the challenges and strengths of aged care. This is also a chance for anyone to propose ideas for improvement.

Next hearing

The next hearing will be in Canberra on December 9 to 13. The Canberra hearing will inquire into interfaces between the aged care system and the health care system, including both Commonwealth and state/territory programs. It will examine whether older people, particularly those living in residential aged care facilities, are able to access the health services they need as they age.

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