Photo: Brendan McCarthy

THE announcement of a Royal Commission into aged care has highlighted systemic problems in the care sector and raised concerns for the health and wellbeing of residents in aged care facilities.

Elder Rights Advocacy worker Debra Nicholl said there were many facilities in Bendigo that do a great job, and she did not want to frighten people off going into residential care.

However, Ms Nicoll said there had been several reports in the past few years that indicated degrees of problems in residential care, both in for-profit and not for profit organisations.

“All the reports come back with the same conclusion – more qualified staff are needed in residential care.”

Reports of one elderly resident left naked and cold while sitting on a plastic chair in the shower, or of an incontinent man waiting in bed to be bathed after a long, lonely night whose cries for assistance go unanswered for too long might be rare, but they are symptoms of a bigger problem in the aged care sector.

Ms Nicholl said while these incidents have occurred in local facilities, she didn’t want people to think acute incidents were common in aged care facilities across the local region.

Ms Nicoll said the problems started to build momentum after the implementation of the Aged Care Act (1997) which states that providers must maintain an “adequate” number of appropriately skilled staff to ensure that the care needs of care recipients are met.

That staffing is at the kernel of aged care issues is confirmed by Bendigo MP Lisa Chesters who said aged care is likely to be a major issue in the next federal election.

According to Ms Chesters, not a week goes by without complaints about aged care.

The barrage of complaints she receives fall into three broad categories.

The first category is the long, painful and complicated process of applying for government assistance, whether that be in the family home or in any aged–care facility.

The second area of concern is the cost of aged-care.

Government funded assistance is means-tested and based on assets and income.

Based on an assets test, about one third of retirees are required to provide a refundable deposit or bond, in which case it may be necessary to sell the family home.

On top of a bond of hundreds of thousands of dollars, residents may be asked to also make regular payments for auxiliary services such as clothing and care items.

The third most common complaint concerns the actual quality of care that you or your loved ones will receive in aged care facilities.

It is the quality of this care that worries Ms Chesters the most.

“As a society we should be concerned that nurses are available for elderly people 24/7,”she said.

“As a result of the 1997 Aged Care Act we have gone from small nursing homes to mega-institutions.

“Many nurses come to me who worked in homes which were bought by for-profit businesses and when they see the results of the transition, they get incredibly upset.

“The roster will be changed – so there will be fewer staff. Sometimes on weekends, that ratio can be as bad as one staff member to 50 people.

Ms Chesters said she knows of families who are paying high fees, expecting commensurate service, but the system doesn’t work like that.

“The quality of the food can also deteriorate in these institutions and general activities and allied healthcare will also decline,” Ms Chesters said.

Ms Nicoll said that in Bendigo one provider is currently reducing staff.

“It is in the area of diversional therapy – elderly people need to be occupied, they have a right to live interesting, active days,” she said.

“But sadly that doesn’t always happen.”

If elderly people or family members are reticent about raising their concerns directly to an aged care facility, they can go to the Aged Care Complaints Commissioner, which is a free service.

Contact options are www.agedcarecomplaints.gov.au or phone 1800 550 552.

Elder Rights Advocacy also offers free, confidential and independent advocacy assistance to older people who are receiving Australian government subsidised aged care services in Victoria, including community care, residential care, abuse prevention, and education for consumers and service providers..

The organisation can be contacted on 1800 700 600, and is located at Shop B, 175 Lyttleton Terrace Bendigo.

– Dianne Dempsey