Report reveals ‘dehumanising’ aged care system
Catholic aged care experts say that the distressing final report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care and Safety needs to be the tipping point required to ensure the needs of vulnerable older Australians are respected after decades of shocking neglect.
They are urging the Federal Government to urgently reform a sector plagued by chronic underfunding and a lack of transparency leading to substandard care, abuse and neglect of the elderly and younger people with disabilities in aged care facilities or in their own homes.
“I had students coming back from placement absolutely distressed” -Prof Jenneke Fottit
The Royal Commission handed its final report to the Federal Government last Monday after a two-year inquiry. Royal Commissioners Tony Pagone and Lynelle Briggs said nothing less than a complete overhaul of the system is required to address the compounding problems that too often result in dehumanising the vulnerable aged.
The Commission heard reports of physical and sexual abuse, including an overuse of drugs of sedation to restrain residents, and severe neglect in aged care facilities leading to “horrific pressure injuries and infections”, malnutrition, incorrect administration of medications, inadequate mental health treatment, and loss of privacy and dignity.
Catholic Health Australia said the commission has offered a “once in a generation opportunity” for lasting and meaningful reform. “This is a moment in time and the Morrison Government is uniquely placed to deliver major reforms that will take some years to fully take effect but will deliver a compassionate and consumer-centric system for decades to come,” said CHA chief executive officer Pat Garcia.
Australian Catholic University’s Associate Professor Jenneke Foottit said her own experiences as a registered nurse in aged care and of teaching nursing students, aligned with the Commission findings.
“In my former role I had students coming back from placement absolutely distressed about not being able to put into practice what we taught them because there was never enough time,” she told The Catholic Weekly.
“What you end up with is either people who become so emotionally blunted that they don’t care anymore because it’s too stressful to care, or they burn out, give up and walk away.”
Investment in aged care workforce critical
Ms Foottit said that constant pressure to reduce costs and a perception that aged care nursing is less challenging than acute care have led to a prevalence of low-skilled and casual staff in aged care and chronic understaffing. “We need to be really serious about whether we value our older adults and are prepared to put our money where our mouths are,” she said.
“We’ve seen growing institutionalisation, poorly paid employees, large buildings, lack of engagement with local community” -Sr Monica Cavanagh
Aged care researcher Dr Bridget Laging welcomed the report saying that the “stand-out” recommendations on her initial view were to improve the care of the workers, mandating of staff ratios and minimum care hours, and the introduction of a star rating to increase transparency of aged care facilities.
“We are talking about looking after older people but equally we need to be looking after people who are providing that care,” she said. “It’s fundamentally important that a focus on ensuring safe and timely care relies on a workforce that feels safe and able to do that. That’s something I hope will really come through with all of this.”
Dr Laging also said that missing from the Commission report is the need to address the devaluing of older people in society.
“We know from our previous research that aged care remains an unattractive and devalued area of practice,” she said.
“Interventions to enhance recruitment, including addressing systemic ageism that has devalued older people and those who care for them, is an essential step – one that sadly was inadequately addressed in the commission report.
“Instead, the commissioners have laid responsibility entirely at the feet of providers and the healthcare workforce, which misses a fundamental stage in shifting societal views of caring roles and our collective responsibility to look out for the vulnerable, including older people and those with high levels of dependency.”
Sr Monica Cavanagh, Congregational Leader of the Sisters of St Joseph, said the report is “distressingly unambiguous”. “We’ve seen growing institutionalisation, poorly paid employees, large buildings, lack of engagement with local community,” she said.
Following the report’s release, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government would allocate an additional $452m to begin to improve the sector.