Our aged care system is broken. We didn’t need a Royal Commission to tell us that many of our old people have been abused by the system that is supposed to care for them. But now we have hard evidence that we are failing our elders. Some of the data that has been released is shocking. One in five residents have experienced sexual or physical abuse.
Let that sink in.
That statistic alone should have authorities swarming the place laying charges. These places that feed our big fat super funds are committing crimes against some of the most vulnerable in our community. Those tasty profits are on the back of the quiet violence of an aged care facility. It’s the stuff that happens when you’re understaffed. When there is no one to report you – because who believes an elderly person? Particularly when they have dementia, or they’re being chemically restrained, or severely disabled, or suffering the effects of malnutrition – speaking out is hard. Who do you tell? Who will believe you? And what if you are unable to speak or have lost cognition?
Privatising aged care has come at a cost: the basic human rights of our elderly. There are stories of a woman who was found to have maggots in a wound on her foot, an old man who was bashed to death, another who was sedated and tied to his wheelchair and there are many stories of people left, uncared for, like 80 year old Luigi Cantali. Luigi is a blind man with mild dementia who was left in his chair all day in soiled clothing. He went hungry when he couldn’t reach his meal because staff members rarely came to assist. This was captured last year by the ABC on hidden cameras.
In aged care there has been no staff-to-resident ratios, no requirement for a registered nurse to be on duty and no standard minimum training for carers. Registered nurses who work in aged care get paid less than if they worked in a general hospital setting.
To provide good care costs money. It requires training. It requires the current privatised model to be smashed. The business model is not the model for an industry that is supposed to be delivering care. People aren’t supposed to starve to death or die in pain when they’re ‘in care’. But they have been. Because the only way to increase profits is to cut operating costs. That means reducing the number of staff and paying for less skilled staff. It means reducing the quality of food. In this way some places were able to almost double their monthly profits. In one story, Bupa aged care had a name for its cost cutting – Project James. This involved reducing the number of nurses and not replacing staff who phoned in sick.
What have we been doing to our elders? These are people who, in many other cultures, would have been revered and given comfort and humanity in their last years. We have put our elders at risk – for profit. Some of these nursing homes are the concentration camps of capitalism. People who have lost their ‘use’ as productive members of society are then transformed into commodities to be traded. Ever wondered why you don’t like visiting an older person in an aged care facility? Pick up on the sadness much? The pervasive loneliness? The lack of laughter? The sense of doom? It is not every aged care facility certainly, there are some that provide quality care, but they are the exception, because the report reveals one in three people in an aged care facility experience substandard care.
We need to provide greater supports to keep people in their homes, or provide models like in Norway (the best place to be an old person) that has a 1:3 staff to resident ratio in a much smaller ‘home’ like setting. We need to stop institutionalising our elderly. And we need to shame the big business, top end of towners who profiteer at the expense of our elderly. If you are in a super that invests in aged care, maybe it’s time to divest?