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Industry responds to ‘suspicious’ nursing home deaths

Australia’s peak bodies for aged care have responded strongly to reports of mistreatment at Queensland residential facilities.

LASA chief executive Sean Rooney and ACSA chief executive Pat Sparrow said quality residential aged care was non-negotiable, and all organisations within the industry had a role to play in maintaining high standards.

The comments came after reports of multiple suspicious deaths at Baptist-run aged care home, Carinity Fairfield Grange in Townsville, sparked a police investigation.

Today it was revealed there had been five recent ‘suspicious’ fatalities, and 30 deaths in total since the facility opened in August 2016.

One of the residents has been named as Charlotte “Lottie” Paluszak, who died after she was allegedly given a lethal dose of morphine and midazolam.

The senior nurse involved has now become the centre of a high priority police investigation, alongside further allegations of mistreatment at the Baptist Union’s Karinya Village home in Brisbane and Kepnock Grove in Bundaberg.

Carinity chief executive Jon Campbell said any staff found to be involved in the deaths had already been let go, and there was no further risk to residents.

“We lodged a report with the Office of the Health Ombudsman relating to a doctor associated with all five of the reports to the Coroner and Police,” he said in a public statement.

“We also reported three registered nurses for breaching Carinity’s clinical policies and procedures. All three were dismissed for not fulfilling their duty of care.

“We are deeply saddened by these events and extend our sincere sympathies to the families affected.

“As this matter is before the Police and Coroner it would be inappropriate to comment further until the Police and Coroner have concluded their investigations. In the meantime, we are fully cooperating with their investigations.”

Australian Aged Care Quality Agency chief executive Nick Ryan admitted the agency did unearth a “finding of serious risk” during the latest audit of the facility, but would not commit further.

ACSA and LASA have today issued a joint statement in response to what they called “concerning” media reports on the topic.

“We recognise the challenges faced by providers striving every day to deliver care that consistently meets the standards and expectations of residents and the community,” they said.

“Failures identified must be addressed to retain the confidence across older Australians, their families and the communities concerned.

“Age services providers, government and the wider community all share a desire for a high-performing aged care sector and our commitment to ensuring this outcome is emphatic.

“Our country needs an aged care system, including accreditation, that assures both the community and providers, of the safety, wellbeing and quality of life for older Australians living in residential aged care.”

Sparrow and Rooney said members of the industry would work closely with the government to respond to and address concerns about quality of care and staffing. They envision this will involve the rollout of a nationwide aged care quality framework and progression towards a new and independent aged care commission.

“Collectively, we need to translate these developments into appropriate actions and outcomes that will address identified shortcomings and contribute to continuous improvement and community confidence,” they said.

“We believe that the ongoing debate around staffing in aged care facilities would be better served by focusing on the quality of outcomes via optimising models of care for older Australians, rather than mandating staffing ratios.

“The basis for deciding on staffing levels and their skills mix needs to be driven by the actual care needs of individual residents.

“A focus on clear, quality outcomes and innovation to drive new models of care, along with adequate and stable funding, and workforce development strategies, are among the highest priorities.”

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