The second and third Melbourne hearings of the Royal Commission to Aged Care Quality and Safety have inquired into diversity in aged care and the aged care workforce, respectively.
Hearing 2 looked at the experiences of culturally and linguistically diverse people, LGBTI groups, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people, care leavers, veterans, and the homeless or those at risk of homelessness.
Hearing 3 looked specifically at how to enhance capacity and how to make the aged care sector a more attractive and rewarding place to work.
There were more harrowing stories including one about a worker who mistreated six elderly residents. The worker – who hosed a resident down with cold water and force-fed another a hot meal — was warned three times but allowed to continue working.
Diversity framework not mandated
The Commission heard that a Diversity Framework developed for and adopted by the Department of Health, is not mandatory in the aged care accreditation standards. After push back from industry peak bodies it is included as “guidance material”. One of the framework’s authors said while peak bodies were supportive of diversity in aged care, they didn’t want it to be mandatory in the sector because it would create “additional red tape”.
The author also said that not all providers are making the effort to educate themselves around diversity. She said when aged care providers say they “treat everyone the same” no matter their diverse background, they automatically are not delivering person-centred care.
Poor pay and conditions for workers
Myself and others have long campaigned for mandatory staff to patient ratios to be put in place in the aged care sector, as they already are in the hospital and childcare sectors.
A submission to the Commission revealed that one of the country’s biggest for-profit aged care chains employed just five staff for 106 residents on night shift at a Victorian facility.
The Health Workers Union told the Commission that it is technically true that aged care staff could earn more working as a checkout operator in a supermarket because workers were often grossly underpaid. Unions spoke of the difficulties of negotiating enterprise agreements because providers consistently said they were underfunded.
However, the industry body, Aged and Community Services Australia, said smaller aged care providers — particularly in regional areas — may not be viable if wages increased, even if the Federal Government increased its aged care funding.
Fly by night home care sector
The Commission also heard about the lack of a national register for personal care assistants (PCAs) in Australia.
PCAs make up between 70 and 80 per cent of the aged care workforce but are unregulated, unlike registered and enrolled nurses who are disciplined under the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).
Workers in the home care sector said the sector is not properly regulated and untrained workers are able to “walk in off the street” and begin working in homes with the elderly.
There was a very sensible suggestion for a version of the child care quality framework to be put in place in the aged care sector.
Chairman of aged care royal commission, Richard Tracey, dies
It was very saddening to hear that the Commission’s chairman has died after being diagnosed with cancer just seven weeks prior. Apparently he had continued working on the inquiry’s interim report after being diagnosed, while receiving treatment in California. He was 71.
The next hearing will also be in Mudgee on November 4 to 6. It will inquire into arrangements for and issues associated with the provision of aged care services in regional and remote areas, including multi-purpose services. The hearing will have a particular focus on aged care services in the Mudgee region.