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Aged care workers and experts featured in the Four Corners program. Photo: Twitter

Four Corners fallout: what some of aged care’s strongest voices make of the program

In the past, major ABC TV reports have had a lot of influence on the Australian public and on policy – for better or worse.

Four Corners, for example, prides itself on its history of sparking debate and triggering inquiries, while a recent study found that in the eight months after Catalyst called into question the effectiveness of statins, an estimated 60,000 people stopped or reduced their intake of the cholesterol-lowering drug, some potentially putting their lives at risk.

So, what will come of the ABC’s most recent major investigation into the aged care sector?

Four Corners on Monday aired the first instalment of its two-part series into the treatment of the elderly in aged care homes. Already, some in the sector have posited that its impending airing prompted Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s decision to call for a Royal Commission into aged care.

The sector was quick to condemn the gaps in care the program’s whistle-blowers aired.

Aged & Community Services Australia chief executive Pat Sparrow said the stories of individual suffering were unacceptable. “As an industry we share the dismay felt by the community when older Australians and their families are hurt by neglect or poor care,” Sparrow said.

That point was echoed by Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Ken Wyatt, who said he was “appalled by the lack of care” shown for older adults.

He said in a statement: “[The stories] have highlighted the importance of the reform agenda we are implementing to increase the regulatory oversight of Australia’s aged care sector.

“We have to prepare ourselves for the Royal Commission to uncover some pretty bruising information about the way our loved ones have been mistreated.”

While COTA Australia chief executive Ian Yates said the examples of poor care uncovered in the report are not new, he added: “What is most disturbing is that every case highlighted on Four Corners last night was a breach of existing aged care standards, and some were a breach of professional clinical standards, but apparently none were the subject of formal complaints – and all that is totally unacceptable in modern Australia.”

Yates added that the sector needs workers who want to be there, care about the residents, have proper training and support, and are backed by proper clinical management.

He called on every aged care worker with examples of abuse and neglect to report such cases to the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency on 1800 978 666, adding this can be done anonymously.

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation commended those who spoke out in the program and added its members have long raised concerns about practices uncovered, such as restriction of continence pads and inadequate food.

“Every day that we wait for the Federal Government to act on staffing shortages, is yet another day that the most vulnerable members of our society are forced to suffer – without proper care, without proper food, without compassion and without dignity,” federal secretary Annie Butler said.

Whether or not Morrison got the ball rolling for the Royal Commission because of the Four Corners’ investigation, multiple stakeholders and representatives suggested it will play an important role in addressing the concerns raised by the voices in the story.

They also seem to be in agreement about the fact that the issues need to be addressed before it wraps up.

Leading Age Services Australia said while the Royal Commission is underway, “we must press on with addressing key workforce and funding issues, and not lose sight of making the system better right now”.

Yates said it must be specifically resourced to ensure it can answer the question of how much funding is needed to provide high quality care for older Australians. “This will then allow Australia to have a clear conversation about how best to fund the gap.”

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  1. For the CEO of the aged care sector to sit there and say he knew NOTHING about patients being fed for $6 a day is an absolute DISGRACE. This practice has been happening for 20years in QLD that I am aware of. This man should be sacked and replaced by someone who works on the frontlines, so they know what is going on. I could guarantee that he would NOT eat 2 pieces of grilled tomato for dinner. As for the comment that these patients DO NOT require a nutritious diet due to their inactivity, Beggars belief. In actual fact they need a more balanced diet to counteract breakdowns of skin integrity, internal bodily functions and promote healthy wound healing and bowel practices. Instead of filling them up with medications for these issues.

  2. I work in the not for profit sector and we struggle but our residents come first and foremost. It is no secret that inadequate funding is a serious issue. Not only is funding inadequate but many in age care see ACFI as a way of clawing back money for the government. This was raised with Prime Minster Morrison during a media conference and he immediately denied this. The documentation is a nightmare and staff often are in a situation whereby they are tempted to do the paperwork and less resident care. The cliche “If it is not written then it did not happen” – go and see the resident you will soon see what is or is not happening. There is so much confusion because terms and references are changed by the department. I am sick of hearing about bench-marking and how other facilities can do things cheaper – we are dealing with human beings not products. Please do not judge all aged care facilities as heartless. There are many, many of us that are caring and honour our elderly.

    • Thank you, all aged care facilities are not the same, but unfortunately they are all being tarred with the same brush! I work for a private nursing home, have been there 6 years now and was with a not for profit group before that. The stories of maltreatment and abuse sadden, sicken and disgust me. It is not always an easy job especially for the careers who are responsible for the personal care and activities of daily living of residents who are not always cooperative or appreciative, especially those suffering from dementia. This, however, is no excuse for abuse. I hope the royal commission results in a better standard of care for all our elderly, not just those in facilities but also those who remain at home, sometimes totally alone all day except for maybe two visits a day by care workers. These people are just as vulnerable or more so! Things must change, both in the aged care sector, but also the justice system. When a care worker who physically assaults a resident is given a 6 month home detention while a person who puts a needle in a strawberry looks at 15 years in Gail, the entire system is broken!

  3. Must say I really enjoyed Sean Rooney’s detached and emotionless response to questions, and his defence of the status quo. It was warming quite a few hearts sat around the sofa with me watching Four Corners. Always comforting to know such an important sector is being managed by people of real compassion and empathy and insight. More of Sean Rooney please !

  4. I also work in an aged care facility and find that the news is always quick to report any failings in the Aged Care sector but the Government keeps changing the ACFI standards so that staff are continually trying to learn what needs to be written for the appropriate funding to be continued.
    Yes staff are pushed to the limit to complete the required paperwork to satisfy the Government and thus taking away the time they have to look after the residents who are the Carers main priority.
    If the paperwork was a more simplified task this would enable to staff to spent more time on the floor caring for the residents.
    The funding that the Government thinks is sufficient is no where near enough to meet the costs involved in looking after someone 24hrs a day. The Government bodies who set the criteria for the funding should be made to work a month in an aged care facility to see the work load that these staff complete in a shift.
    They then may rethink the funding and the paperwork involved in the caring process, they would also see that we strive to meet the care needs of all residents and allow for them to have as much choice as we can in their daily living arrangements.

  5. I was dismayed by comments of some of the aged care workers, somehow trying to turn normal practice into a problem. For example yes continence aids are locked up to prevent misuse by staff. They are a large expense to facilities and need to be properly managed.They are designed to last for 8 hrs, ie 3 a day, but if more is required that is never or should never be an issue.
    I’m sorry but the comment that staff ask doctors to chart medications, hello, will he jump off a cliff if staff ask.??? Staff can ask for residents to be reviewed, but the doctor is responsible for reviewing a resident and charting the appropriate medication if required.
    How do we know if any of the family videos were edited inappropriately.
    Every workplace , not just aged care, needs to work within its budget; however this is impossible to do when funding keeps being taken away. How much is this Royal Commission going to cost, couldn’t this money being going into aged care.
    Unfortunately many families have unrealistic expectations of care. Even if you had 20 staff to 20 residents, someone is still going to have to wait for something.All residents deserve great care and its very sad to hear that there are those who are not getting it.

    • Anna…..
      How would you feel if it was your mother being treated badly? For my family no funding amount will be enough. Are you willing to put a price on your mothers care? I am not unrealistic, I am caring and compasionate and I want the best for my loved ones. I don’t want the $10 a day budget plan, especially when I see the happenings shown in the 4 Corners report.
      It seems like you are trying to justify the lack of staff, the mis-treatment, the poor food or lack of incontinence pads as acceptable practice and general running costs – however low funding IS THE PROBLEM.
      If this Royal Commission reveals that this funding problem is the root of all evil then no matter how much the Royal Commissions costs to run – every dollar was worth it.
      If it means the government is forced to allocate more funds then brilliant!

      I am not going to sit by and just accept the costs to run a nursing home is adequate when I see such mistreatment. If you want something to change you have to fight for it.
      We must force the government to commit more funding, we must force the government to require better staffing/patient ratios, we must tell the government what we expect of them.

  6. I watched 4 corners and commend people who spoke out about the problems in aged care facilities.
    One of my concerns is food taken away from the residents before they have finished their meal. Residents have problems with swallowing and oral hygiene is not always attended. Resident having no daily shower is a worst case scenario and only having their face washed. 6 minutes to get resident up and showered impossible. Wages are one of the biggest monies to be spent in aged care so hence not employing appropriate staff does not always happen due to the wages and budget.

  7. I have just watched your program and I feel that you are showing a one sided view. You have not reported on what the staff do for our aged care. My father has been in the Dementia Ward at Kilpatrick Court for 3 years. The staff are working very hard and yes they are understaffed and need more funding however they always put the patient first and my father is always showered and fed and I have every confidence he is well looked after by the staff there because we visit our father every day every week so we do see first hand what is happening. I am very happy with the care given to my dad and I thank the staff at Kilpatrick Court for doing everything they can. They have weekly outings, put on concerts for the patients, they can sit outside in the sunshine and have their haircut to make them feel good. I agree there is a need for changes in aged care and they certainly need more funding. Please do not take away from the majority of staff that work extremely hard to care for our elderly.

    • They aren’t bringing down all staff, but they are pointing out that impovements are needed. More funding is required, and if a report like this achieves it, then I want more reports.

  8. It’s not so much the lack of funding, the real issue is the practise of the money being squirreled away by the companies and NOT being used for the purpose for which it is intended…..to enable appropriate care of the residents!!! Billions upon billions of dollars (read “profits”) findss its way overseas via elaborate tax evasion schemes and ultimately into the stakeholders coffers. It’s a very lucrative business and the Government has knowingly permitted this rorting to occur because of “agreements” made 20 years ago at the inception of privatisation. Thus, these companies have been allowed to self regulate and escape accountability. One has only to read the Aged Care Act 1997 to see the incalculable loopholes that have deliberately been included as enticements to invest in the industry. These companies have sunk their money into the sector for one reason only…..TO GENERATE A PROFIT, and if that means cutting expenditure to the bare bones to increase the surplus, they’re perfectly happy with that! So to all those saying “OH they NEED more funding”…..you’re wrong. What’s needed is for the providers to be transparent and show exactly where this money is going and have penalties applied to those who manipulate the current system. Google search “profits of Aged Care facilities” and you’ll see it in black and white. That’s why a Royal Commission is needed to expose the filthy, corrupt underbelly of the industry. The money is there, but it’s not being used to deliver exemplary care! Quite the opposite. Check too the executives of these businesses……they all have qualifications NOT in health/medical care, but accountancy, economics, commerce, policy development, strategic planning, etc. What does that tell you? Ask why there’s been such vehement resistance to a Royal Commission by Government and providers alike. Because they work in collaboration, are corrupt and don’t want the public to know of their operations and the ways in which they acquire their ill gotten gains. Now we have the opportunity to have a thorough investigation into WHY the elderly of care are suffering all manner of deprivation, neglect and abuse. Let’s just hope the “terms of reference” are appropriate and very specific. The public have until the 25th September to submit their own for consideration. Do IT! I certainly am!

    • Right on. Corporate Banks, Big Business is deeply
      involved in Aged Care. Bottom line, it’s about
      the buck.

  9. I have worked as a carer for 10 yrs. 7 if those years in a high care residential home. The pressure that is put on carers to manage the need of the residents is huge, from satisfying the ACFI requirements to absurd staff/ resident ratios. Consequently staff are led into making shortcuts to be able to ‘get through’ the workload. After 7 years I left the home in which I was working with torn cartledge in both knees and sever depression. Unfortunately these conditions were not diagnosed correctly at the time and therefore there was no opportunity for work compensation, of course this has impacted on my career since. The way staff are treated at times is horrific and consequently I would never work in that sort of environment again. Home care seems to be a different story and although there may be MH issues associated with staff levels, eg hoist use, the time pressures are totally different. I most welcome a royal commission,
    Making money from the needs of the aged & sick seems to me to be both heartless and socially fucked up. We need cultural change both in the facilities we use and in the wider community

  10. My parents were in aged care, Mum passed away and Dad came to live with me. It was supposedly one of the more caring places and at first it was as you see my sister worked there and was in a high position, then she went on long service leave and the care dropped…. even my parents commented on how much as my sister was away and like most elderly they were not complainers. I have worked in aged care as a Diversional Therapist and EN….. yes they get stroppy…. but never would I have hit them, left them in wet dirty pants and bedding, and I would have been ill if I saw the scared look in their eyes I saw in those videos. If it got too much with a client I made them comfy and went elsewhere…..they don’t want to be there so why make their life hell???? We do need to fight for them and others who will follow…. you would have had to tie me up if I was face to face with those careers!!!!