A magistrate threw out 12 charges of assault against two aged care workers, saying that “force” is sometimes “needed” when caring for elderly people.
When Ed Robins noticed bruising and skin tears on his then 92-year-old mother, he decided to secretly install a video camera in her room to try to find out what was happening when he wasn’t there.
What he saw when he played back the video horrified him. His mother, who had recently broken her leg, is pushed and shoved roughly by her carers.
Mr Robins immediately called police, and two carers were charged with assault.
The ABC has released the video online, and it will be aired on Four Corners tonight, in the second episode of the series that has revealed the dark underside of the Australian aged care industry.
We have decided not to share the ABC video on HelloCare because the content is just too upsetting. It is available on the ABC website.
Despite the video’s distressing content, magistrate Gregory Smith acquitted the carers of all charges. He said the carers were often extremely busy, and that Mrs Robins had frequently been “violent and abusive” towards staff.
He said using “force” against older people was sometimes necessary, likening caring for older people to caring for children.
“Perhaps if I were to give a quick example, placing of a two-year-old or a three-year-old into a car seat and trying to get their seatbelt done up,” he said.
“If that child is compliant, then some force is needed, but not much. If the child is resisting, then more force is needed. If the child is throwing a complete tantrum, then obviously extra force is needed to achieve what has to be achieved.”
Mr Robins was shocked by the magistrates findings. “She has been physically abused, in our eyes, and from what we were told by the police,” he told the ABC.
“I don’t think many Australian know what goes on [in aged care]. There should be cameras in every room,” he said.
Senior Australians and Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt AM told HelloCare, “I understand concerns over the treatment of Mrs Robins and found the vision disturbing when I saw it during the Court case earlier this year.”
“Carers must be well-trained and compassionate because of the daily challenges they face when caring for our senior Australians, especially those living with dementia. The inappropriate treatment of people receiving aged care services is completely unacceptable.”
The Minister noted that the aged care home was ordered by the Department of Health to improve its practices and was placed under sanction for a time.
Ian Yates AM, CEO of the Council of the Ageing (COTA), told HelloCare, “That kind of treatment is totally unacceptable.”
“Whether or not it’s legally assault is beside the point, it’s certainly abuse. There appears to be a pattern of behaviour,” he said.
Mr Yates said it also appeared the staff were not properly trained because of the way they handled Mrs Robins.
The upcoming Royal Commission is likely to mean there will be many more reports like this one, and possibly worse, he said. The Commission must have proper systems in place to enable people to tell their stories, just as was done for the Child Abuse Royal Commission, he said.
Mr Yates also said it’s important the Royal Commission attempts to get to the bottom of the underlying causes of the type of “abusive behaviour” seen in Mrs Robin’s case so that it can make recommendations designed to stamp it out and prevent it from happening again.
Mr Yates said he hopes good operators can tell their stories in the Royal Commission, to identify what they are doing right. Changes to the aged care system should be introduced that allow good operators to increase the number of beds they have, he said.