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Margot Harker. Photo: James Elsby, AAP

The final days: royal commission first hearing

In the final two days of the first hearing of the royal commission we heard from the people affected by the system itself and had a summary of the proceedings to date.

Kaye Warrener described to the commission the near two-year wait she and her husband, Les, have endured when waiting for assistance from My Aged Care.

Warrener is her husband’s full-time carer and they contacted My Aged Care for the first time in November 2017 in relation to a home care package.

“We were told at the very beginning that it could be 12 to 18 months for the package,” she said.

“And up until today we’re still waiting for the home care package level 3.”

Warrener described how this wait for adequate care has seen a decline in Les’ health, and this has been difficult for her too.

“It’s hard to watch your loved one – I mean, we’ve been married for 56 years – to watch their health deteriorate. And I just feel with the extra support financially we would be able to help perhaps delay some of those onset things that are happening with age,” she said.

Margot Harker, who is currently on a level 4 home care package, spoke of her frustration with the level of care she receives.

“With one of my providers at the moment, the one that’s handling most of my evening care – so that’s paid for by the package – I’ve had at least 12 months … in which there was, frankly, incompetence,” she recalled.

“That people who were on a roster didn’t know they were on the roster. I hadn’t got a copy of the roster.”

She also spoke about the loneliness a home care package engenders, saying there is no scope for companionship.

“I think it’s emotionally very crippling in the sense that [the loneliness] overtakes you quite a lot at certain times. I’ve also discovered – because I was 64 when I had the stroke and I’m now 72 – there has been a kind of accelerated ageing that has gone on in this time,” she said.

We also heard from aged care resident Barrie Anderson whose wife has advanced dementia and is nearing the end of her life. He had an overall positive view of his and his wife Grace’s time in care but did talk of the need for more dentists in the system, and to address nursing staff turnover.

For the positives, he spoke of the original facility the couple stayed in – for its house-like layout – and the various music programs they have taken part in.

“I think it’s very important in terms of not only Grace’s wellbeing but mine, and in theory music, I believe, is – it touches the soul. With the music that Grace is provided with at the moment, we can reminisce or think about past times, and I think that music is underestimated in its total value of how it can enhance people’s lives, basically.”

On the final day of the hearing, council assisting Timothy McEvoy spent over an hour summing up the thoughts from the eight days of evidence.

He identified several factors affecting the provision of aged care in this country. Pointing to population growth, increasing dementia levels, increases in demand for home care, workforce issues, difficulty obtaining public health services in aged care and the economic sustainability of the system itself.

“As we said in opening, part of the problem is cultural. Older Australians are valuable members of our community but all too often we do not value the contribution they have made. If we do value their contribution, the way in which we care for them does not demonstrate that we value it,” he said.

“The dominant narrative too often casts older Australians as a burden, rather than a blessing. The royal commission rejects that narrative and calls for a culture of appreciation and respect for older Australians. But this must be more than a mere statement of aspiration.”

The next hearing will be held in Adelaide from Monday 18 March. It will focus on home care and the community.

The following round, focusing on quality, safety and dementia, will be held in Sydney on 6 May.

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  1. Sadly I think that the contributions by are current older generation, that is the taxes they have paid over the course of their working life has already been spent by various governments over that same time. Nothing has been planned by anyone for the future and I doubt anything will change, especially as I believe there are less people working and paying taxes. People think that because they pay an accomodation bond of whatever amount that they are entitled to more or better care. They do not realise that the money used to pay for food, electricity, staff, medical supplies comes out of ACFI funding not from bonds . The use of this money is regulated by the government and is fully refundable to the resident or their family. Everyone wants the best care possible but no one wants to pay for it.

  2. So glad to finally hear comments about the problems associated with home care packages such as isolation & lack of social contact quote ” loneliness – a home care package engenders, saying there is no scope for companionship”.

    “I think it’s emotionally very crippling in the sense that [the loneliness] overtakes you quite a lot at certain times. I’ve also discovered – because I was 64 when I had the stroke and I’m now 72 – there has been a kind of accelerated ageing that has gone on in this time,” she said.

    There has been so much hype and media coverage about ‘staying in your own home’ playing to the natural reluctance to go into an aged care facility. Staying at home is not always the right choice and not all aged care facilities are problematic. I have been hearing so much about the problems in aged care and very little about the good that goes on every day.

    A good quality aged care facility can provide excellent social interaction.

    It was necessary for me to place both of my parents into care and my experience was basically very good.
    My father did not get his every wish satisfied as he had when he lived in his own home and had my mother responding to his demands and to my mind that was not a negative. He was safe, he was well fed, his medical needs were managed, he had activities to attend if he chose to, he was given jobs to satisfy his personal need for relevance, I think the staff of their facility did everything they could to satisfy both of my parents. In my personal experience, my parents lived with as much freedom and dignity as their medical conditions would allow.

    What my parent’s aged care facility couldn’t do was turn back the clock and make my Dad’s lungs work again or magically cure mum’s dementia.