The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety continues this week in Darwin and will look at aspects of care in residential, home and flexible aged care as well as issues those living in rural and remote communities face.
Day one opened with testimony from Dr Meredith Hansen-Knarhoi, from Terrace Gardens aged care in Darwin, and her patient Mildred Numamurdirdi, an elder and traditional owner from Numbulwar.
Dr Hansen-Knarhoi is a GP who regularly visits Terrace Gardens and she met Numamurdirdi in 2018 when she was moved from Numbulwar, approximately 800 kilometres form Darwin, after a stint in hospital due to contracting pneumonia.
Hansen-Knarhoi told the commission that Numamurdirdi has been unable to return to her community and the nearest aged care facility is a five to six hour drive away. This has left Numamurdirdi isolated from family, friends and, importantly, her culture.
Numbulwar has a small population of approximately 750 but can swell up to 1500 depending on community events, funerals or football matches.
“They drive me, put me on the ambulance and they drive me and I didn’t know this place. And I was crying for four weeks... sad for my family,” Numamurdirdi said via pre-recorded video testimony.
Terrace Gardens is too far for her daughter and grandsons to visit, with dangerous dirt roads and “lots of accident along the road”.
She talked of her life before she moved to Darwin when her “family never missed me”. They used to surround her, sit with her, talk and laugh with her. Her family would eat damper and whatever they had hunted “sharing, family sharing”.
“They love me so much and I love them so much, my children and my grandkids,” she said.
Numamurdirdi described to the commission the spiritual hurt she endures being away from her homeland, magnified as she is the eldest in her family.
“My heart is crying, yes. My heart is crying because I far away from my family. Because if I pass away here, I’ve got my spirit, my culture, my ceremony way back home at home and my family, they don’t want that way, because we’ve got everything there in the home,” she said.
“I’m the eldest out of my family and that’s my mother land Numbulwar.”
She misses the freedom of her home, and of things like going to the beach in her wheelchair.
“We don’t have aged care closer... in our community. I’m asking to build aged care in our community… community, please,” she said.
Kim McRae, of team manager, Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (NPY) Women’s Council (Aboriginal Corporation), tries to facilitate indigenous clients' wishes to remain on country.
“We do a lot of advocacy for people around their desire to continue living on country. At times that puts us a little bit at odds with other service providers who may feel that it would be more appropriate for someone to live in town and get additional supports,” she told the commission.
McCrae suggested more needs to be done to help people return to country for cultural events (if a move to city care is needed) through better funding, and this will result in better health outcomes for the patient.
"I think return to country is really critical to people’s emotional and social wellbeing.
“The difficulty is the threshold around where someone’s care needs have increased and yet they’re still saying they want to continue to live on country. There’s a tipping point, I guess, where perhaps the medical service is starting to be concerned about that person.”
Helping residents to visit home can occur when McCrae has reason to drive "out bush", be it a festival or outreach program, but it is not always possible.
"Actually finding specific funding for that to occur is getting harder and harder," McCrae said.Do you have an idea for a story?
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