More than 300 people gathered at the Bendigo Town Hall on Tuesday as the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety visited Bendigo.
Commissioner Lynelle Briggs AO and those in attendance heard harrowing stories from families, friends and advocates about the challenges and flaws that exist in the aged care system.
The inadequacy of staff to resident ratios, the treatment of people living with a disability, medication dominated care regimes and a convoluted and difficult to understand system for accessing care were just some of the issues broached in the two and a half hour hearing.
Recounting his mother’s recent experience in aged care, one man described a change he noted in her behaviour and personality.
A once vivacious and enthusiastic woman was replaced by an anxious, bored and rebellious one.
He called for better transition programs for residents moving into aged care facilities after living independently, as well as a focus on physical and mental wellbeing.
When remarking about staff to resident ratios, the crowd erupted as the speaker emphatically said that staff in aged care shouldn’t be forced to work in aged care by government agencies such as Centrelink, as a job of last resort.
Ms Briggs told those gathered that a Royal Commission is the highest form of inquiry into matters of public interest and encouraged speakers to come forward and share their stories.
The electorate of Bendigo is home to 12.7 per cent of residents aged 70 years or greater living in residential care, which is above the state average of 10.7 per cent.
Federal Member for Bendigo Lisa Chesters heard many stories from workers, providers and families about challenges in the aged care system and asked the commission to visit Bendigo.
“It was important that the commission heard from regional families, staff and providers,” Ms Chesters said.
“The findings of this Royal Commission will help to drive reform the sector desperately needs,” she said.
The Royal Commission commenced in Adelaide with a preliminary hearing on January 18.
It will visit capital cities across the country in the coming weeks after visiting Bendigo for one of two community forums.
The first community forum took place on March 1 in Bankstown, New South Wales.
The commission has been directed to inquire into all forms of commonwealth-funded aged care, irrespective of where it is delivered.
The care of people in aged care facilities, in-home care services and for young Australians with disabilities living in a residential care setting will be a major focus for the Royal Commission.
Commissioner Briggs and former Federal Court judge Richard Tracey, who was not present in Bendigo, will produce an interim report into their findings by October 31.
A final report is expected by the end of April 2020.
– NICHOLAS NAKOS