The royal commission has examined the employment of a personal care assistant who seriously mistreated residents but was allowed to keep working.
The worker, who was referred to as UA because the matter has not been heard in court, allegedly hosed a resident down with cold water, slapped a resident in the face, forced a resident to eat a meal that was too hot, and threw a bell at a resident’s leg, causing significant pain.
UA eventually resigned after a third warning, but received a ‘statement of employment’ from the provider that failed to mention any misconduct.
UA began working with the provider in 2007.
In March 2015, facility manager Dianne Mnich wrote to UA about “allegations of serious misconduct” and informed him that he had been suspended from his duties while the matter was investigated.
The letter related to separate incidents in which the worker hosed a residents with cold water and slapped a resident’s hand and took away her biscuits.
Even though the provider deemed the incidents to be “serious misconduct” that was “a serious risk to the health and safety of our residents and a grave concern”, the worker was not fired, but given a first and final warning and instructed to complete a “self-directed learning package” about.
UA completed the course, achieving 100 per cent.
Despite the serious allegations, the provider decided to retract the first and final warning after intervention from the Health Workers Union, the royal commission heard, and replaced it with a ‘first warning’.
In January 2016, UA was involved in another incident, during which he “forced” a resident’s head and neck down “causing terrible pain” while changing her into a nightie.
UA was suspended from duty, with his actions described as “very serious allegations”.
UA was again directed to do the self-directed learning.
Counsel assisting the royal commission Peter Rozen asked, “Why did you direct him to do it again?”
Ms Mnich replied, “To reinforce, I guess, the education.”
“Did you think perhaps the education from the first two occasions that he’d done it wasn’t sinking in?
“I can’t recall,” replied Ms Mnich.
UA returned to work after the suspension, but the following month there was another incident involving UA in which he forced a resident to eat food that was too hot.
In another incident that occurred close to that time, UA threw a call bell at a resident, hitting him on the leg and causing him pain.
UA was then given a final warning and instructed to complete the training again.
A couple of months later, a final incident was reported that resulted in the end of UA’s employment with the provider.
UA allegedly “stamped” on a woman’s clothes and “slapped her face”. The elderly victim of the incident “was frightened and started screaming”.
The victim’s mother wrote to the provider, “I believe he should be sacked, because it is unacceptable for a person in charge of the wellbeing of a resident to do what he did, especially when it was completely unprovoked.”
She asked that UA be fired, but was concerned he would simply begin working in another aged care facility, referring to the unregulated nature of the aged care workforce. “I suppose it will be like the Catholic priests who are moved on to offend elsewhere”, she wrote in a letter that was submitted to the royal commission.
Other incidents involving UA were also reported to the provider, including hitting residents, swearing at them, and threatening to break their walker.
UA resigned from working with the provider before these matters could be investigated.
Mr Rozen questioned human resources manager Nicle Farrell about the initial complaint against UA being downgraded from ‘first and final warning’.
If the ‘first and final warning’ has been upheld, after the second incident, the other incidents would not have occurred, Mr Rozen asked Ms Farrell.
“I agree with that,” she said.
Alarmingly, the provider wrote a statement of service for UA that made no mention of these incidents, meaning future employers would not be immediately made aware of the alleged misconduct.
It described his duties as “contributes to the physical, emotional and lifestyle needs and wants of the residents”. The statement was amended to include the additional work responsibilities or administering medication.
On Monday this week, the royal commission heard of the merits of establishing a register of care workers to help employers identify offences committed by prospective staff.
The hearings continue.