Emotions ran high last Friday, as the second round of Royal Commission Community Forums touched down in Maidstone giving the community of Melbourne’s inner-west their chance to speak directly to Commissioners Lynelle Briggs AO and The Honourable Richard Tracey AM RFD QC.
As has been the case in all of the community forums thus far, Commissioner Briggs opened proceedings in front of 300 members of the public and outlined the reasoning and for the day’s proceedings and the intent of the Royal Commission as a whole.
“These forums are the public’s chance to identify the changes that the aged care sector needs, and we will give significant attention to residential aged care, which has been the biggest source of the submissions that we have received,” said Commissioner Briggs.
“To the people who have registered to speak today – please take your chance to speak up, we are here for you and I can’t wait to hear what you have to say.”
As usual, those in attendance heard a number of extremely sad and harrowing stories throughout the day, and while there was a range of speakers from all walks of life, the problems that were highlighted throughout the morning have been recurrent themes throughout all of the Community Forums that have been held so far.
There were a number of stories from members of the public who were experiencing problems with home care, and the long list of issues included claims of home care staff not actually turning up for work on multiple occasions and then lying to their employers about the hours that they actually work.
There were also disturbing claims of an elderly person being assaulted by home care staff and other allegations of staff simply refusing to do the job that they were employed to do.
One person claimed that they were not showered for days, despite it being a week where temperatures reached their mid 40’s, and there were also a number of problems when it came to performing cleaning duties within the house.
Allegedly, a home care worker refused to clean anything over shoulder height and left the top cupboards covered with dust and grime, despite routinely reaching up to those same cupboards when it came time to make themselves a coffee.
The emotional toll of the lengthy home care package waiting-times was also discussed, with one person revealing that their family has spent the last ‘889 days’ waiting for an upgrade to a high care package for a loved one – and that the wait was putting a massive strain on their entire family.
Residential Aged Care
As expected, problems with the current state of residential aged care made up the bulk of the stories throughout the day, and in terms of subject matter, things ranged from extremely sad, through to downright awful.
The stories of young people who were living in aged care as a result of disability brought members of the audience to tears, with one of the speakers claiming that they want to kill themselves every day due to social isolation, and stating that their imagination had been whittled away to nothing.
There were also claims from multiple speakers that younger people living with a disability in aged care are treated as a hindrance rather than a resident and made to feel unwelcome by staff.
Sadly, the stories from members of the public who had a loved one living in an aged care facility were just as disturbing as they have been in all of the Royal Commission’s Community Forums thus far, and while there were isolated stories of abuse and neglect, the overwhelming take away was that people in Melbourne’s west feel as though staff are not bad, they are simply unable to cope.
There were a number of speakers that praised the hard work and good-nature of aged care staff and a number of them also felt that their poor experiences were due to a lack of time rather than a lack of wanting to care, and there were graphic examples of this throughout the entirety of the Forum.
One member of the public claimed to have seen people in wheelchairs who were soaked in so much of their own urine that a puddle had begun to form on the floor and that this person also witnessed a fallen resident wait on the ground for 45 minutes before the staff arrived to lift them back up.
In terms of solutions, the majority of the speakers in attendance asked the Commissioners to implement staffing ratios as a means to fix problems, as a lack of staff was the source of blame for everything from residents feeling isolated though to basic hygiene failures.
Surprisingly, there were a number of speakers who were actual nurses and offered unique insight into the current state of aged care, none of which had anything positive to say.
In particular, the culture of the aged care environment was brought under fire, with one particular speaker claiming that there was a culture of fear in some facilities and that both families and residents are fearful of speaking out against wrongdoing because of a fear of retribution.
One ex-nurse said that they felt as if they had gone backward ‘20 years’ when assessing what they have seen in a particular aged care facility and that it felt as though the families of residents were treated as the enemy.
Having attended Friday’s Aged Care Royal Commission Community Forum in Maidstone, and a previous forum in Bendigo, there should be no confusion by the Commissioners regarding what the general public wants from aged care.
Put simply, Australians want residential aged care facilities that have enough staff to meet both the physical and emotional requirements of care.
While both of the hearings that I attended did have stories that alleged outright criminal behavior from aged care staff, the vast majority of issues seemed to stem from aged care staff not having the time to care rather than not being up to the task.
Commissioners Lynelle Briggs starts every Community Forum ensuring those in attendance that their words mean something, and that the purpose of listening is to gauge both the problems and potential solutions for the Australian aged care sector.
And one-by-one, many members of the public have stood up and shared stories of sadness, horror, and shame in an attempt to highlight just how poor the system currently is, and the Commissioners should be under absolutely no illusion of what that is.
The Australian public wants mandated staffing ratios for residential aged care facilities, they want to receive their home care packages a lot quicker than they currently do, and they want home care services with integrity.
Not understanding the problem, is no longer a valid excuse.