It’s horrible getting old. I don’t want to end up in a nursing home. I don’t want to finish this story in a chair looking at the wall.
I don’t want all my days to feel the same. Or my food to smell weird.
I don’t want my family to have to visit me and struggle to find something to say.
I don’t want them shifting in their chair, watching the clock, wondering if 20 minutes is enough, and if I’ll even notice them leave.
I don’t want them leaving me there. I don’t want to be one of these lost old people waiting for a taxi every day, not knowing that they are never going home. Because this is home. And the only taxi coming for me is death.
Last week I visited my mother-in-law. She is in an aged care facility in Sydney that is as nice as a facility like that can be. It is new, it’s architecturally impressive. The staff are joyful and kind. Probably could be more of them, but that’s the poor pay and the crisis in aged care staff. It is in the middle of a swanky suburb, and it even has views to the sea. But it’s still depressing. It was her choice to be there. She didn’t want her care to fall onto the shoulders of her family. She didn’t want to be a burden.
Why? Because we don’t have government systems that properly support families to keep their parents at home. Because we don’t adequately value and renumerate the important role of carers. Because it’s cheaper to run big centres full of lots of old people than it is a house with just three people. Because we have allowed the private sector to profiteer at the expense of our elderly.
They make billions of dollars every year looking after our old people. How can it be remotely ethical? You don’t turn profits for your shareholders by spending money on the resident experience. The only way to increase profit is to cut back on what you spend on food. On staffing. On what support is available. You have to take bigger bonds and reap the interest from older people who have sold their modest family homes in a lucrative real estate market.
I hear stories of people who have paid a $1 million bond. These aren’t rich people. These are people who lived in a house they bought for $30k around 50 years ago that’s now worth $2 million. These places have on average 200 plus people. When the person dies, you get your bond back, less any charges. But they keep the interest. The interest on $200 million even at 5 per cent is enormous. It’s $10 million a year. This is on top of weekly care fees and the government subsidy and 87.5 per cent of any pension the resident might receive. Misery and disconnection is expensive for the consumer. But it’s a profit-making wonderland for the investor.
Our old people have become commodities. We literally trade them as such in aged care. It’s a business to keep them alive. If you keep them alive for as long as you can you make more money. They are kept alive for profit, not for humanity. This is in no way a criticism of people who work in the aged care sector. Their important work is devalued. Why are aged care nurses paid approximately 25 per cent less than a nurse in a hospital? Nursing assistants are some of the lowest paid workers in the community, often getting less than baristas.
If you redirected the huge sums of money spent on aged care you could fund home care. What is nursing care now could become palliative care. Keep people in their communities. Decentralised models that put the person at the centre, not profit; that keep people with their families, with the support they need in their home. Or in their home living in their community with the support networks of their choosing. It’s what they do in Norway and Scandinavian countries. In Norway they have a philosophy of re-ablement for older people in poor health that focuses on keeping people in their homes – not directing them towards care facilities. It can be done.
We have to do so much better. And every single one of us is personally invested in this. Because we are all getting old.
One day it will be us in that chair waiting for the taxi that never comes.
It’s up to us.