The HelloCare team hit the road yesterday, en route to The Aged Care Royal Commission’s second Community Forum that was held in the beautiful and iconic Bendigo Town Hall in rural Victoria.
The Bendigo city center was abuzz with members of the public, some of which who had traveled hundreds of kilometers to have their chance to voice their opinion and speak directly to Commissioner Lynelle Briggs AO and share their thoughts and stories about aged care in Australia.
Humidity was high as 300 members of the public and a small contingent of media huddled into the main area of the Town Hall to witness Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, Commissioner, Lynelle Briggs AO, give her opening address.
And the Commissioner made the intentions of the community forum very clear to those in attendance from the outset.
“There have been quite a few reviews of the aged care system over the years, but a Royal Commission is the highest form of inquiry and we’re here to hear your story,” said Commissioner Briggs.
“Those of you who have something to say but haven’t made a submission to the Royal Commission; don’t hold back – we want to hear from you.”
“Many of you will have ideas about what is wrong with the current aged care system, and many of you will have ideas on how to improve it.”
With formalities out of the way, the forum was privy to a series of emotional and powerful accounts from aged care workers, home carers, and those with loved ones currently being cared for.
“Elderly people should be going into a facility to live, not waiting to die,” were the final words of the first public speaker, and as the crowd erupted into cheers it was clear from the outset that the people in attendance had been waiting for their opportunity to speak for quite some time.
Throughout the course of the afternoon, we heard from multiple speakers, each with a horror story of their own that highlighted some of the massive problems that those dealing with the aged care industry currently endure.
And while the majority of speakers were from various walks of life, there were definitely some issues that appeared often enough that a noticeable theme started to develop.
The theme of over-medication was prominent throughout a number of stories from both the families of residents and aged care employees alike.
One member of the public described watching a family member mentally deteriorate within an aged care facility as a consequence of being over medicated with a ‘never-ending cocktail of drugs.’
This person then pleaded with Commissioner Briggs for the Royal Commission to look at a more holistic approach to care, describing how the family member regained the essence of their personality after being taken home and weaned off their previous medicinal regime.
Other members of the public spoke at length about the difficulties with having medication levels reassessed and altered to meet the changing needs of residents, and one member of the public spoke about the horror that came with realising that a family member’s mental deterioration was caused by being given a roommates medication by mistake for a number of weeks.
While there were many powerful statements from members of the public that really resonated with the audience yesterday, one person’s proclamation that ‘facilities can look at residents as problems and medication as the answer,’ was met with many nodding heads and rounds of applause.
The majority of issues that were peppered throughout almost every story from members of the public involved a lack of adequate staffing, which in some cases, families have paid the ultimate price for.
One speaker who had a parent living with dementia in a nursing home spoke of hygiene practices that were so bad that their family member would routinely develop urinary tract infections.
This harrowing story drew gasps of shock from the audience as the speaker remembered being told by staff that their parent was ‘too much work for staff,’ in the days before the resident eventually died from sepsis, which is a blood disease that can occur through poor hygiene.
While there were an unfortunate amount of horror stories involving staff issues, it’s important to note that the vast majority of speakers felt that issues involving staff ultimately came down to staff having a lack of time to do their job and called on Commissioner Briggs to implement staff ratios.
There were also a number of ex-aged-care staff who spoke who echoed the same sentiments regarding a lack of available time to do their job in a manner that they are satisfied with.
One speaker spoke of coming into a residential facility and constantly finding that their family member was not in their room and that staff had no idea of this person’s whereabouts, with the family member often being found hiding in the toilet to escape an unruly roommate.
One speaker questioned the reasoning behind providers only employing a skeleton staff on the weekends and how having less staff on the busier weekend days affected the quality of life of those without visiting family members.
Members of the public highlighted aged care providers lack of flexibility regarding care and the way in which advice from family carers was not taken into account when providing a care plan for individual residents.
The words “Listen to the family carers. They have more background information on residents than anyone else,” rung loud in the Bendigo Hall, and they were met with vigorous applause.
Issues regarding the quality of staff training and the quality of people that are being allowed to train to work in the aged care industry were heard loud and clear by Commissioner Briggs, alongside many questions surrounding the lack of dementia training that staff receives.
One of the most disturbing viewpoints that were highlighted in many of the day’s stories was an apparent attitude within the walls of some nursing homes that seemingly viewed family members as enemies of facilities.
One Speaker remarked that they felt as though ‘facilities almost look at residents as problems,’ and that people would go to great lengths to shield families from the mistakes and realities that occurred within facilities.
And according to one ex-aged-care employee, there are definite repercussions for those who choose to question any wrongdoing within the aged care workplace.
“I believe that I was fired because I questioned malpractice which I believe resulted in a death,” said the speaker.
Commissioner Briggs spoke candidly at the end of the forum and thanked all those who spoke for their bravery and willingness to share their stories.
She also went over a number of the issues that were flagged throughout the day and assured the crowd in attendance that everything that was said was being heard loud and clear.
While the majority of the stories that we heard throughout the day did not have happy endings, it was empowering to see everyday members of the public have their chance to actually have a chance to have their stories heard.
Commissioner Briggs did not shy away from any of the horrible subject matter that being vented yesterday, in fact, she actually sat just meters away from the speakers who were facing her directly while telling their stories.
The Commissioner took notes throughout the process and her willingness to engage with the public as they spoke, definitely gave me and many others in the building the feeling that she was the right person to be carrying out a job of this magnitude.
It’s just a shame that many of the peak bodies and aged care providers who represent some of the settings where these horror stories took place, didn’t care enough to sit down and hear these stories for themselves.