When Noleen Hausler revealed her late father has been physically assaulted at the nursing home where he lived, management at the home not only failed to deal with her complaint appropriately, they threatened and lied to her.
At Monday’s Perth hearing, the royal commission heard from Ms Hausler, and also members of staff from the nursing home where the assaults took place, which is run by one of Australia’s largest aged care operators.
In August 2015, 89 year old Clarence Hausler had severe dementia. He was “helpless’, the royal commission heard, and needed help with eating and all aspects of daily living.
Mr Hausler had been living at the same facility for 13 years at that point, and had been “lovingly” looked after by his daughter, Ms Hausler, who visited him regularly.
But by late August 2015, Ms Hausler was becoming concerned about her father’s wellbeing. She had raised her concerns with Mitcham’s management, but was dissatisfied with their response.
In desperation, she installed a hidden camera in her father’s room, and was “shocked” by what she saw, according to her submission to the royal commission.
In only 10 days, Mr Hausler was physically assaulted three times – twice by one of his carers, and once by an agency employee.
The royal commission heard the revelations raise the question of not only what was happening in rooms at the nursing home where cameras were not installed, but what had been happening in Mr Hausler’s room before then.
When Ms Hausler raised her concerns with the home’s management, their primary response was to “attack the messenger”, the royal commission heard.
The quality manager of the home wrote a response to the complaint, and asked her manager, the executive director of aged care services, to “vet” the response.
“I have dated it the 5th – so it looks like we thought about it seriously,” she wrote.
The royal commission heard that the operator deliberately misled Ms Hausler into thinking her concerns about her father’s safety and well-being were being taken seriously.
Later in 2015, the operator wrote to Ms Hausler accusing her of breaching the Aged Care Act 1997 and the Occupational Health and Safety Act by installing the camera in her father’s room.
“Mrs Hausler had contravened neither,” the royal commission heard.
The operator also accused Ms Hausler of “the serious criminal offence” of stalking staff. Ms Hausler had not stalked staff, and the matter was never investigated.
“You may well conclude that these letters were calculated to threaten Noleen Hausler,” the royal commission heard.
The operator reported the assault two months after it occurred, rather than the 24 hours that is required by law, and even then it was only made after Ms Hausler had herself reported the case to authorities.
“You may find that the assault would never have been reported by [the operator] but for Ms Hausler’s actions,” the royal commission heard.
Though the initial assaults were shocking, “nothing prepared Ms Hausler for what she saw on the night of 9 September 2015.”
“She watched the video footage taken earlier that day in disbelief as it revealed… a long term employee…, forcing a dessert spoon into Mr Hausler’s throat and covering his face with a napkin and twisting his nose applying some force.”
Ms Hausler’s submission to the royal commission read, “Being confronted with the visual images I went into a state of shock and total concern for Father.
“My heart was racing, my hands were shaking and I didn’t know whether to go back to Father, ring the facility or go to the police.”
Ms Hausler eventually went to the police later that night, and the following morning two detectives showed the footage to a group of senior employees of the operator, the royal commission heard.
The operator reported the assault to the Department of Health, as it was required to do.
The perpetrator of the assault was charged by police and eventually went to jail.
The operator “did not live up to its stated and published values of honesty and integrity in either its dealings with Mrs Hausler or its dealings with the regulator. It was more concerned to look after its own corporate interests,” the royal commission heard.
The operator made 298 “serious assaults” to the Department of Health between 1 September 2015 and May 2019.
The royal commission also heard that every one of the operator’s 49 aged care facilities reported at least one suspected assault over this period.
The hearings looked at “systemic” issues, such as staff selection, training and supervision, and cultural issues.
“Was there a culture within the company under which carers knew that they could abuse those under their care with impunity?”
The commission’s focus in Perth is on person-centered care, and in this case looked at the question of whether or not Mr Hausler received person-centered care.
The Carnell Paterson review suggested:
“Aged care providers with a genuine commitment to consumer-centred care and improvement recognise that mistakes happen and complaints matter. Rather than fear the consequences they value learning from complaints and embrace open disclosure, apology and careful attention to analysing and rectifying problems.”
Sadly, for Ms Hausler and her family, their complaints were not addressed in this way.
The Perth royal commission hearings continue today.