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Credit: Kelly Barnes AAP

Air-con on trial: royal commission day five

Day five of the aged care royal commission saw a set of tense exchanges between counsel assisting Dr Timothy McEvoy and Leading Age Services Australia chief executive Sean Rooney.

Rooney was taken to task by McEvoy over a number of issues, in particular LASA’s views on air-conditioning in aged care facilities.

LASA’s submission made mention – in reference to the governments draft aged care quality standards consultation paper – of the need for “comfortable internal temperatures”, which “may be interpreted that all services are required to have air-conditioning”.

McEvoy pointed out that, in fact, there was no reference to internal temperatures to be found in the draft, asking “is it the view of LASA that it’s unnecessary to have heating or air-conditioning in residential aged care facilities?”.

Rooney replied in the negative, only to be pursued by McEvoy.

“So, if that’s the case, why was it suggested that reference to ‘comfortable internal temperatures’ be removed and, indeed, why was there a concern…?” he said.

When asked repeatedly whether he and LASA believe that air-con should be standard across aged care facilities, Rooney repeated that heating and cooling should make residents “comfortable”.

Rooney was asked how this issue came up and if LASA was lobbied by providers due to a fear that air-con may be a requirement.

Rooney replied that the question “must have been raised by a member at some point”, causing McEvoy to question – three times – whether LASA would ever prioritise the needs of residents at the expense of providers.

“I would suggest that LASA has always looked to ensure that we are supporting our members to deliver the best possible care that they can,” Rooney replied.

This was not the only time Rooney was pressed during his testimony. He was also asked why some LASA members wanted to change the wording of the single aged care quality framework.

LASA’s statement reports that “some LASA members have suggested amending clause 2.3 to remove ‘continuously monitored’ to replace it with ‘regularly monitored’”.

The clause currently states that: “Care and services are implemented and continuously monitored and evaluated for effectiveness.”

McEvoy then proposed that the amendments sought by LASA might serve to reduce “the standard required because there’s no requirement for continuous monitoring”.

“Counsel, I would suggest that that was not the intent of the suggested change to the standards,” Rooney replied.

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The issue of ACFI indexation was again raised today. Nicolas Mersiades, director of aged care at Catholic Health Australia, said the indexation formula itself is “particularly harsh” and is not keeping up with the economy.

Dementia Australia chief executive Maree McCabe told the commission that by 2056 there will be an estimated 1.1 million Australians with dementia, adding “there won’t be anybody that is not impacted in some way”.

McCabe also highlighted the plight of minority groups with dementia, giving the commission a sobering example of a man in a same sex relationship for 35 years, who earlier in life was married to a woman.

As dementia set in, his partner cared for him until the dementia became so serious that he believed he was still married to his wife, and heartbreakingly forgot his partner. McCabe told the commission that these diverse groups often miss out on care and more needs to be done to see they are not neglected.

McCabe called for mandatory dementia training for the 240,000 aged care workers in Australia.

“70 per cent work as personal care workers, and their certificate III does not provide any education around dementia, not as mandatory or even optional training,” she said.

“And one of the key things about education is it is about developing empathy… And our theory was that if we could actually simulate that, it would change peoples’ attitude, it would change their behaviour and it would then change the practice and care.”

The last day of this hearing takes place on Wednesday 30 February.

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