An aged care provider should have been pushed out of the industry well before its Gold Coast retirement home's unprecedented abrupt closure, a royal commission barrister says.
The federal health department should have revoked approval for People Care in 2017, senior counsel assisting the aged care royal commission Peter Gray QC said.
He said there was abundant evidence about People Care's unsuitability as an approved provider.
Mr Gray said the fact that a commercial confrontation led to the abrupt closure of Earle Haven Retirement Village suggested he was right that People Care should have been managed out of the sector back in 2017.
Senior health department official Anthony Speed said information could have been sought earlier about the approved provider and its suitability.
"I'd agree that there was information that occurred immediately prior to 11 July that the department was not made aware of by the approved provider, which led to those circumstances of the 11th of July and pointed to significant concerns about the suitability of that approved provider."
The shutdown and emergency evacuation of 69 vulnerable residents was sparked by a dispute between People Care and subcontractor HelpStreet, which managed the residential care facilities at Earle Haven.
Mr Gray pointed to People Care's history of persistent non-compliance on quality standards, sanctions and poor capacity on governance, management and human resources and sanctions.
An adviser was appointed in June 2016 before further sanctions were imposed on People Care in May 2017 over "poor service provision".
"When you put those things together, you have an approved provider who should have been, in a deliberate and careful manner, phased out of the sector by ultimately having its approval revoked after some sort of orderly transition of its residents," Mr Gray said.
Mr Speed, the head of the department's compliance branch, said there were examples where providers had similar circumstances and returned to compliance and provided quality care.
"There are also examples where I concede there are issues that if all the information had been put together, indicate that there may have been systemic issues that warranted a more immediate response," he said.
Mr Gray criticised the department for not taking stronger action in 2017, citing the overall interests of the vulnerable recipients of aged care services.
He said an appropriate approach to regulation meant the regulator must be willing to go to the highest level of its powers and revoke approval in cases such as People Care, where there was abundant evidence of its unsuitability as an approved provider.
Mr Speed agreed.
Professor Ron Paterson said he had hoped the Oakden nursing home scandal in South Australia and a review he co-authored into aged care quality regulation would be a wake-up call.
But cases like Earle Haven suggested the lessons have not yet been learnt, he told the royal commission's Brisbane hearing.
Professor Paterson said there has been a total lack of curiosity by watchdog officials.
"It feels as if people have been going through the motions and not looking at what's right there in front of their noses," he said.
"I know that's a strong statement but it's made on the back of a situation that we've heard evidence about in relation to Earle Haven, where these weren't simply minor issues that were being raised."Do you have an idea for a story?
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