Last night’s episode of Q&A, aired on the eve of the royal commission handing down its report on aged care to the government, was dedicated to the topic of how we care for older Australians.
Members of the audience told of seeing loved ones the victim of abuse in aged care, of sexual assault, of those living with dementia dreading the prospect of moving into a nursing home, and, in the end, how the system has, time and time, again failed older Australians.
The devastation, anxiety and frustration were palpable, and the episode left many in tears, including members of the panel and, at times, host Hamish McDonald himself.
Audience member Yumi Lee asked what does the fact that there are 50 sexual assaults in aged care homes every week tell us about how we treat older women?
In response, geriatrician Professor Joseph Ibrahim said report after report has been written for the government on the topic of sexual assault in aged care, and yet nothing has been done.
“It makes me incredibly angry,” he admitted.
It’s as though “older women don’t matter… That’s an abomination on our society,” Ibrahim said.
Lea Hammond shared the harrowing story of her father Brian’s experience in aged care. The story had been aired on 7.30 earlier in the evening, revealing that her father, a resident at Perth’s Regis Nedlands, was left outside in the sun for two hours on a 40-degree day.
Brian suffered such severe illness and injuries after the event, he required hospitalisation and later died.
Host Hamish McDonald asked, “Given all the scrutiny there has been on the aged care system while the royal commission has been underway, doesn’t it defy belief that something like this is happening?”
Audience member Robyn Weinberg said she and her husband, who are both in their 70s, “pray we will die” before they have to move into residential aged care and said they would receive better care in prison.
“Why do profits come before people,” she asked, suggesting that all MPs spend a week in a high-needs aged care home to understand the realities.
Clare O’Neil, Shadow Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services responded with her own question.
“Is it possible to run a dignified, civilised aged care system by private providers?” she asked, indicating she hopes the royal commission’s final report will go some way towards providing an answer.
She said women have a 55% chance of living in an aged care home and will spend two to three years there. She said the topic impacts more people than you might think.
Mike Baird, former NSW premier and now CEO of Hammond Care, said Australia has lost its value for care workers and nurses and our culture does not appreciate older people.
He described aged care workers as “an army of angels” who are “undervalued and undertrained”.
“For some reason” Australians do not value older people as they do in other nations, he said.
Baird noted that between 30% and 40% of Hammond Care’s aged care residents receive no visitors. “It’s a real problem,” he observed.
Tim Granger, who is living with young onset dementia, said he was “horrified” at the prospect of moving into an aged care home in his 60s.
The outlook is “really scary,” said his daughter Pru, adding that the family didn’t know if it would be able to afford high-quality care.
“I’m so sorry that is a choice your family has to make,” said McDonald, choking back tears.
Ibrahim said he doesn’t expect the government will respond swiftly to the royal commission recommendations. “There’s been no track record” of that, he said.
“There’s a level of discrimination that occurs when you get old and the minute you hit 65 you’re no longer eligible for disability services.”
He encouraged every person under 65 living with dementia to register for NDIS, and lobby for the condition to be recognised as a disability, and they will be “better off”.
“We’ve lost the dignity of the person in aged care,” he said.
One Twitter commenter asked why Ibrahim isn’t running the country.
The show concluded on a sombre note, with Allen describing her father’s final years living with dementia. Once a doctor, he was left with no words other than ‘thank you’.
“It’s a terrible disease,” she said through tears. It was important to have the conversation about voluntary assisted dying, she said.
Last night’s Q&A, and the evening’s earlier 7.30 report, are the latest in the ABC’s important journalism about aged care, which ultimately leads to the establishment of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.
It remains to be seen how the royal commission proposes we fix this mess, and how fully the government takes any recommendations up.