The head of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council has welcomed the government’s decision to crack down on wayward aged care facilities, a little over a year after the Catholic bishops expressed concern about the vulnerability of the aged and elder abuse.
ACSJC Executive Officer John Ferguson told The Catholic Weekly that he applauded the decision of Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt to no longer provide notice to aged care facilities that they were about to be audited.
The new policy comes on the back of revelations, earlier this year, that a state-run home in South Australia had been practising cruelty towards its residents – in the form of excessive restraint, overdosing, and understaffing – in spite of regularly passing annual reviews.
Mr Ferguson said the bishops had been prophetic in their 2015-16 Social Justice Statement, A Place at the Table: Social Justice in an Ageing Society, and that the issue was particularly alarming against a backdrop of the possible legalisation of euthanasia.
“We need to defend life itself against a ‘throwaway culture’,” Mr Ferguson said, referencing a phrase coined by Pope Francis.
“There is a convergence of utilitarianism and one of the calling cards of neoliberal economics – fiscal restraint. These are not necessarily linked to the current debates concerning euthanasia. But they could be and – I fear – will be in the future.
“For example, what could conceivably occur if the ‘generosity’ that sits behind an elderly person’s feeling of being a burden on others meets the tight-fistedness behind the decisions of a bureaucrat who has been ordered to cut spending, end programs or clear beds?”
The bishops identified five challenges in upholding the dignity of the aging in A Place at the Table: ending the divisive debate that casts the young against the old; spreading the benefits of a longer working life equitably; adequately resourcing aged care; preventing elder abuse; and defending life against a throw away culture.
Earlier this year, the ABC and Fairfax Media conducted an investigation which allegedly revealed plans by aged care giant Aveo to charge exit fees of up to 40 per cent after two years, as well as a turnover target of 10 to 12 per cent of residents each year.
Speaking at the National Press Club on 25 October, Minister Wyatt spoke about the respect due to older people in light of their humanity and their experience, lamenting that “up to 40 per cent” of aged care residents were not visited by others.
“Our love should not be conditional on a point in age, or because we drift away from those who once gave of themselves to care for us,” Mr Wyatt said.
“We must all ask ourselves: Do I want to be abandoned in my later years? Is this what my elders deserve? Is this how I want to live out my days?”
More information about the bishops’ justice statements can be viewed at www.socialjustice.catholic.org.au/publications/social-justice-statements