Mar 08, 2022

Speaking truth to power: Elders have their say on aged care

Val Fell - Council of Elders
Council member Val Fell is a well known advocate for people living with dementia and for ageing well. She recently turned 93. As she passed this milestone, she contemplated what she hopes the council will achieve for older Australians – and for herself as she grows older. (Image: Supplied)

The diverse group met with Ministers Greg Hunt and Richard Colbeck, introduced themselves to each other, and talked about their backgrounds, their areas of interest and their passions. 

A communique from the session noted a strong common theme: “ageing well”.

A Council of Elders was in the top 10 recommendations of the royal commission, and has the purpose of ensuring older people have a direct voice in government policy development. 

The council will meet monthly for at least the next six months, and then possibly bi-monthly.

Council Chair Ian Yates AM told HelloCare all members of the council are older people and have lived experience of ageing and aged care.

There was a great deal of “energy”, “optimism” and “passion” in the room on that first meeting, he said, as well as an impressive depth of experience, from First Nation members, to a representative with deep multicultural experience, to human rights advocates, to people with a range of professional skills, and more.

Council member Val Fell is a well known advocate for people living with dementia and for ageing well. She recently turned 93.

As she passed this milestone, she contemplated what she hopes the council will achieve for older Australians – and for herself as she grows older.

“I will be able to maintain my independence until I get to the stage where I know that I no longer have the capacity to make decisions on my own. Then I can decide who the person [who can make decisions on my behalf] is, and who’s going to support me,” she said.

Ms Fell told HelloCare it makes her “happy” she is potentially making a contribution to the future design of the aged care system in her role on the Council, and the fact she is being consulted about aged care reform makes her feel “that my life has had … some meaning. I could help others.”

Council of Elders members (L-R) Danijela Hlis, Val Fell, Ian Yates AM, Dr Kay Patterson AO and Gillian Groom AO attending COTA Tasmania’s National Elder Abuse Conference. (Photo: Supplied.)

She continued, “I am happy that the Council of Elders will be able to put forward the views of senior Australians and that, as a result of that, notice will be taken of those views and incorporated into the formulation of the new Aged Care Act.”

Ms Fell stressed the importance of the new Aged Care Act being developed within the framework of human rights, although the communique from the Council’s first meeting does not specifically mention human rights.

“You have to go down [the human rights] path” and adopt a person-centred approach, says Ms Fell.

Elders left out of decision making

Speaking as an individual, not as a member of the Council, Ms Fell said that up to this point elders have not had a voice in the national conversation about aged care.

But the Council will change that – and they intend to be heard. 

“It will [have a voice] from now on,” she observed wryly.

Residents should have some “representation” at the decision-making level and have a say in “how the [aged care] residence is being run”.

Mr Yates said he has often been a lone consumer voice in the national conversation about aged care, which has been dominated until now by providers and aged care professionals.

Royal commissioner Lynelle Briggs was critical that the consumer’s voice often was not represented at the final point in the government’s policy decision making.

Mr Yates said that although the council’s role is clear, and the government will listen to their advice, he “can’t guarantee” they will incorporate it into their policies.

We need the right workforce

Ms Fell stressed the importance of getting the workforce “right”.

“We need the right people working with the right training – and I don’t think a couple of weeks of courses [is suitable] – I mean the right training in the right place at the right time.” 

“That means something like staff ratios, or being able to put into place the care minutes that are required, with the right amount of remuneration and a reward for continued personal development. 

“To maintain that you need to change the cultural attitude towards ageism,” Ms Fell told HelloCare.

No use-by date

We have to “get rid” of the attitude that once you’re old “you’re no use anymore,” said Ms Fell. 

Sometimes it seems like older people have a used-by date on their forehead, she joked.

Ms Fell believes intergenerational programs in preschools and schools can help shape more accepting attitudes towards ageing, but she laments the fact that Australian society has moved away from the idea that “it takes a village to raise a child”.

She said older people aren’t as respected as they once were.

“It’s amazing what the old people don’t know,” she said, with more than a hint of sarcasm and a laugh.

Though Ms Fell says she doesn’t see herself as a role model, she says she is often seen in that role.

The fact she is old “doesn’t really enter my head”, she said. Some of her closest friends are in their 30s, and her family are all ages, from a great-grandson who is one to her oldest child who is 65.

“I know how old I am – I keep reminding myself because I never say ‘no’ to doing things,” she said.

Judging by the life of her mother, who lived to 100, Ms Fell says she still has at least another seven years “to catch up”. 

“I keep on thinking, ‘I’ve still got some time’,” she said.

Ms Fell and I talked for 20 minutes, but could have gone on for longer. She doesn’t seem to tire, though she has several documents to read before tomorrow’s first working meeting of the council. She’s 40 years my senior, but Ms Fell is outpacing me. 

If anyone’s doing that, it’s the Council of Elders and Val Fell.

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  1. With respect to these well known members of the Council of Elders, where is the “Common man/woman” representation.

    There are 3.8 million requiring representation – 1.3 million of whom are receiving care- how many members of the Council are at the coal-face of aged care, actually living at home requiring services or living in aged care where there is a shortage of carers

    1. Peter, I consider I am at the coalface – I receive CHSP for myself and as a volunteer running a support group for carers I am in constant contact with people needing assistance.
      Two other council members are at the coalface , including one who is living with dementia and one who cares for a person with dementia and advocates for people from the CALD group.

      A fourth person representing the disability in the community has a disability.

      All other members have the lived experience of becoming Senior Australians who have had experience in the aged care field.

      1. I’m impressed by your vigor Val. However if you are going to continue as part of this advocacy group you should be aware that the elderly and able nursing home residents already have the ability to direct their care and the process to elect a person to manage at a later stage is called an Enduring Power of Attorney which is also in place .
        I agree with Peter, your experience is purely with home care but the big problems are at the real coal face in residential care.
        Don’t let yourself become another Greta Thunberg,used, discarded and mislead.

        1. Anton, You have no idea of my background , Anton. I have been involved with people with dementia since the 1960’s when my eldest brother-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Subsequently , another older person in my family was also diagnosed in the late 1990’s. Then unfortunately my husband was formally diagnosed in 2006 although he had shown signs for a number of years previously. I cared for him at home until 2010 and he passed away in a facility in 2013.

          I have had experience with nursing homes over many years , from before the 1997 Aged Care Act until now. as I continue to visit friends and help carers looking for placement for their partners. I do have some knowledge of the problems with aged care in both the “support At Home”and residential care.

          If you really want to be heard by those responsible for transforming aged care I suggest you take up the invitation from The health Dept. and join the “aged care engagement hub ” using http://www.agedcareengagement/health.gov.au/get involved.. This will give you the chance to participate in webinars/ surveys/consultations. If you know other people who would like to be involved and are not on the internet, please ask them to contact “My Aged Care” by phone or mail . They would be sent the relevant material in hard copy.

  2. I have the privilege and honor of not only knowing but working alongside this great advocate of knowledge and wisdom. She is a great example to us all, that age has now boundaries in making the world a better place by making a difference in Aged Care really matter.

  3. Thank you to the Elders involved.
    With all due respect, I am at the mine site, daily, trying to protect my family member in residential aged care.
    If Government Ministers are involved, these meeting will be orchestrated to suit their angle.
    Was the regulator present to discuss neglect and abuse?

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