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Aged care royal commission: day one

“The hallmark of a civilised society is how it treats its most vulnerable people and our elderly are often amongst our most physically, emotionally and financially vulnerable.”

These were some of the final words from commissioner Richard Tracey on the first day of the keenly anticipated Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety in Adelaide this morning, with those gathered given a glimpse into what to expect over the next year.

Although proceedings were somewhat marred for some of the families and campaigners for the elderly – including Clive Spriggs, son of SA Senior of the Year and Oakden whistleblower Barb Spriggs – who were unceremoniously deposited in the outer spill rooms in favour of lawyers and heads of the peak bodies.

Prominent aged care advocate in attendance, Stewart Johnston, told Aged Care Insite that he and others, including Spriggs, were ushered to the front of the queue to enter the hearing by a security guard.

“We’re standing there, and this woman appears and says ‘you need to get to the back’,” he said. “They said ‘you need to get to the back, you’re not important, you’re nothing important, I’ve spoken to the commissioners, and these people have been here first’.

“We were dumbfounded,” he said.

The opening of the hearing itself had less drama. Tracey directed Dr James Popple, the official secretary, to outline the letters of patent. Popple set the tone of proceedings by recognising the contribution of elder Australians to our nation and the need for the commission to uphold their dignity.

He reminded those gathered that as our population is ageing the community expects government to have the best policy and frameworks possible.

Tracey started by reaffirming the commission’s “broad remit” which will include investigating young people with disabilities in the aged care system, those with dementia and the overarching need to examine “sub-standard care and systemic failures” within the system.

He also pointed to the commission’s interest in the newly formed Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission and said the Royal Commission will follow “the new regime to form a judgment about its efficacy”.

In her address, commissioner Lynelle Briggs said it is extremely important to investigate current policy and practice in the sector in answer to the “rising torrent of concern that the system is faltering” and to “ensure all Australians have confidence that the system will serve them” when the time comes.

Briggs conceded that the commission has only “a short time with which to conduct our inquiry” but stressed that they will consult extensively with experts, researchers, government stakeholders, and of course the public and those affected by failures of the system. “We will give voice to them,” she said.

Addressing concerns of privacy and whistleblowing, Tracey made clear that although at this point the commission is only asking for submissions, it will, if need be, compel witnesses. He added that any confidentiality clauses in contracts of current or former employees will not exclude people from summons and that the commission would be “gravely concerned” if any provider or government told staff not to talk to the commission.

Furthermore, he stated the commission will afford protections to any whistleblowers and outlined penalties should any repercussions be felt by those who testify.

Assisting councils Peter Gray and Dr Timothy McEvoy laid out some of the finer details of the hearings to come as well as observations of submissions received at this time.

So far, 83 providers have responded, covering 2000 outlets. The “tenor” of responses include instances of elder abuse, medicine mismanagement, misuse of psychotropics, food safety, poor wound care leading to death and poor record keeping.

Campaigner Johnston was, on the whole, pleased with the opening hearing. Although he did have some concern for the “5,000 submissions received before the portal was up,” apparently going instead to the Department of Health.

“Somebody needs to be questioning those because anyone who would be able to knock out a significant submission straight away would be the ones that are giving the really good information,” Johnston said. “And how did they send it to the Department of Health? That concerns me.”

Johnston also stressed the need for the roundtables and community engagement to happened as soon as possible, as he believes consulting with the current providers and peaks is not enough.

“I do hope they consult with people with lived experience,” he said. “LASA and all of that are in there talking to the commissioners on their own before the public are allowed into the hearing today. That’s the problem – there is a lack of trust from the community.”

As for the immediate future, the first substantive hearing is slated for 11 February, lasting until the 18th. It will be an overview of the current system of operations and will also hear witness testimony from those receiving care.

Yet to be announced are the dates for any roundtables and community consultations, but all of those involved were at pains to stress that these are to be held in all of the major cities as well as regional areas where possible.

The commission’s interim report will be released on 31 October this year, with 30 April 2020 as the deadline for a final report and recommendations.

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2 comments

  1. I hope that they look into the quality of training for front line workers, the quality of training varies greatly amongst training organisations. Aged care workers provide the majority of care to elderly people. Older people heavily rely on their carers to provide them with daily care such as personal care and medication assistance. In many cases the care is provided to elderly people with complex needs who may not be able to communicate their needs effectively. It is essential that carers be trained well in communication including good literacy skills to enable care workers to report changes in the person and their support needs, for example pain and behavioural triggers, care and mobility issues, also being able to communicate their preferences, likes and dislikes, in order for this to be followed up and acted upon. I think we all need to read the “Rights and Responsibilities” of people in care and the community and actively work towards ensuring their rights are upheld. Also good effective training in caring for people with dementia, not only for aged care workers, but also nursing and management staff. The news report on ABCs 7.30 last week was disturbing regarding the liberal handing out of medication to people with dementia without informing or gaining consent from their family member / primary carers. We as a society need to respect our elderly a lot more than we do currently, by providing care with dignity, which entails well trained staff and management, more resources for accreditation processes where more officers can conduct random visits to aged care homes, more robust volunteer programs to ease the heavy work loads for staff and better designed aged are facilities that are more homely rather than a looking like a hotel resort.

  2. Virginia Craven (Craven Frosh)

    My now deceased husband entered IRT, Illawarra Retirement Trust, in Woolwich in Sydney in 2013.
    He had a cocktail of neurological diseases including Lewy Bodies Dementia. Initially as he was classified as ‘low care’ he managed. I was forced to complain about the lack of cleaning, on a number of occassions, Health Work and Safety issues, and when asking when the computer previously promised, was coming? was lied to over and over again. We went thru at least 4 or 5 Care Managers in a few years, one was found to have falsified his qualifications after a number of months of employment. He was the best they ever had!
    After my husband fell and injured himself on walks and got lost a number of times and lost his possessions despite all practical precautions taken, I requested that my husband not be allowed to leave the facility. One fall involved falling into Sydney Harbour from a ferry passenger ramp!
    I was told by the Care Manager that they could not do that! I said as his Enduring Guardian and Power of Attorney I feared for his safety and questioned their Duty of Care. The Care Manager actually stated they had no Duty of Care ?? Some weeks later my husband started getting halluciniations and started wandering the hall ways at night. A staff member who actually saw him did not report this.
    Finally having lost 10 Kilos it was clear they were not reminding him to go to meals. I was forced to find another facility and despite them advertising “Aging in place” they did not provide high care.

    Fortunately this new facility was wonderful, Estia at Bexley, a one hour drive each way. With the most wonderfully experienced Care Manager/Director, who had many years dealing with dementia patients.
    Having transferred/moved my husband, Estia accounts managment discovered that IRT had overcharged me by thousands of dollars. He finally received the care and support he needed and died in late 2017.

    The reason for me contacting you is that I wish to place on record the inadequate care that IRT provides and the incompetant managment and false advertising. I notice they are building a new facility in Hospital Road Wollongong? IRT must train their staff in their Duty of Care and understand what that means and ensure that their financial management and records are accurate, and not cheating families who are sacrificing many pusuits to pay for aged care of their loved ones.