The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety’s Interim Report was released yesterday afternoon, and if the conversations in the weeks leading up to the release of this report were anything to go by – very few people were shocked by what they read.
The Interim Report, entitled Neglect, covers much of the work of Commissioners Richard Tracey AM, RFD, QC, and Lynelle Briggs AO through to September 2019, and was both candid and scathing in its assessment of the aged care sector and those that control it.
The Government, The Department of Health, Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, aged care providers and their peak bodies were all called into question regarding their role in the current state of the aged care system – a system that the report believes “diminishes Australia as a nation.”
While there has already been a flood of opinions regarding the findings of the interim report, there are very few who boast a resume that encompasses as many facets of the aged care sector as Dr. Rodney Jilek.
Dr. Jilek started his aged care journey as a nurse in the early 90’s and by 1997 Dr. Jilek was already a Director of Nursing (DON) and managing a high care nursing home with over 90 beds.
Over the next 20 years, Dr. Jilek worked in a number of corporate and advisory roles within the aged care industry and was actually a Clinical Advisor for the Aged Care Quality & Compliance/Department of Health and Aging.
These days, Dr. Jilek is the Principal Advisor at Aged Care Consulting and Advisory Services, where he provides advice and works alongside aged care providers who have failed aged care accreditation, which gives him a unique insight into the problems being faced by the sector.
Problems – that according to Dr. Jilek, we were already well aware of.
“There is absolutely nothing in the report that comes as a surprise at all and everyone in positions of power were well aware for years – government knew, regulatory bodies knew, peak bodies knew and senior members of the sector knew. It has been swept under the carpet for decades,” said Dr. Jilek.
“Failed providers continue to fail over and over again, failed executives become consultants and advisors and are embraced by the sector peak bodies, sanctions are meaningless and all the issues just get hidden away and ignored. The system allows it all.”
Airwaves and inboxes were flooded this morning with opinions from all corners of the aged care sector, but Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck and Health Minister Greg Hunt have both declared themselves ‘unavailable’ to answer questions.
In a press conference in Canberra yesterday, Mr. Colbeck declared that he was ‘shocked’ by the extent of the interim report’s findings, which is rather unusual when you consider that the majority of seasoned aged care figures are all well aware of the problems.
“If he is genuinely shocked by this he should resign immediately,” said Dr. Jilek.
“The government, Department of Health and The Commission all knew. They have spent the last two decades trying to ignore it and bury it as deep as they could by gagging anyone who wants to speak out.
“The Department is full of people who have no interest or experience in aged care and they are a large part of the problem,” he said.
Mr. Colebeck would not commit to an increase of aged care funding in yesterday’s press conference, but PM Scott Morrison has promised that Australia will see more aged care funding before Christmas on 3AW this morning.
Although a funding increase is welcome news for the majority of the sector, the problems that stem from deriving profits from care were touched upon at numerous points throughout the report.
The report went as far as to say that the current aged care system was “designed around transactions, not relationships or care,” and that structural changes that made it easier for profit-driven providers to enter the market and accompanied by a ‘lighter-touch’ accreditation approach.
The report also noted that the current aged care system has been framed around the idea of a ‘market’ for aged care services, which is evidenced by the use of phrases like ‘clients’ and ‘consumers’.
Concluding that older people are not in a position to negotiate prices, services or standards and the idea that aged care is an effective consumer-driven market is a myth – as there is little choice in aged care.
“The government’s policies of sector consolidation and a market-driven sector have turned older Australians into a commodity to be traded and exploited in the quest for profits and have fundamentally encouraged this disaster to happen,” said Dr. Jilek.
“While I have said for years that the funding available is not enough to provide the highest quality care and meet everyone’s expectations, the basics such as respect, privacy, and dignity are free and we haven’t even managed to do that consistently across the sector.
The report was also highly critical of the current regulatory process that was put in place to ensure the safety and quality of aged care services, labelling it “unfit for purpose” and incapable of adequately deterring poor practices.
The report also claimed that large portions of accreditation reports conducted by the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission were generated by computer-assisted text that simply spammed positive words and lacked the human element of determining quality.
The regulatory regime was also deemed to “do little to encourage better practice beyond a minimum standard,” and action against those who failed to deliver the minimum standard of care was deemed ineffective.
“The regulatory bodies have been, and continue to be, completely ineffective and fail older Australians on a daily basis and inconsistency and dodgy interpretations of the legislation by senior departmental delegates rob older Australians of their rights,” said Dr. Jilek.
“Everyone involved in aged care in this country should be profoundly embarrassed today.”
It was refreshing to read a report that was candid enough to express the same level of bewilderment and anger being felt by millions of Australians who have been failed by the aged care system.
But it’s deflating that many of the same people and departments who are complicit in this systematic failure will go unpunished for the sub-standard care outcomes experienced by older Australians.
The Australian aged care sector has been a cesspool for far too long, and in order to create real change, we might just have to look at draining the swamp first.