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Under-fire Bupa meets with aged care advocate

After another horror week of revelations, aged care behemoth Bupa has taken a step towards repairing its reputation by meeting with prominent aged care advocate Stewart Johnston.

Last week the ABC reported that more than half the nursing homes run by Bupa are failing basic standards, and 30 per cent are putting residents at risk due to poor health and safety practices, despite aged care profits of $663 million and $460 million in government subsidies.

Johnston, whose mother Helen was a former Oakden resident, made a string of comments about Bupa on Twitter last Friday, prompting Bupa to arrange a meeting between Johnston and managing director Suzanne Dvorak and corporate affairs director Roger Sharp.

After the meeting on Monday, Johnston told Aged Care Insite that Dvorak and Sharp acknowledge that “the business has been run very poorly” and that “there was no real oversight at any level in Australia until the beginning of last year”.

“I was absolutely appalled at, again, another nine days straight of horrendous, horrendous things that are happening to people out there,” he said.

“But unfortunately … we’re almost becoming desensitised to it, and that’s a fear that I’ve got: that it’s becoming so normal and almost to the point where this has got to stop, but what do we do to stop it?”

From the ABC’s reporting, there were suggestions that due to the size and scope of Bupa’s aged care business – it has about 6500 residents in care – it may be “too big to fail”.

“That was my trigger point. When I watched that, I sat back and instantly I’m thinking, ‘Are they too big?’, as in they’re bigger than governments, so no one’s going to deal with them properly,” he said.

“No. Why should they? Bugger them, because there are 6000 people calling a Bupa [facility] home right now. So, the days of just allowing them, or just accepting that they’ve failed, are over. They have got to make it better, and they have got a very limited amount of time. Like their time ran out yesterday.”

Johnston came out of the meeting feeling positive, and he believes that change is forthcoming after promises were made to him in the room.

Dvorak has agreed to accompany Johnston on a number of unannounced spot visits to problem Bupa nursing homes, and Bupa has agreed to reassess the way it deals with staff and resident complaints.

“I said, well you need to scrap all that, and you need to do a 1800 NEW BUPA [phone hotline] and you need to be telling the country, ‘We’re not saying sorry for what we’ve done previously; we want to know what else is out there that we don’t know yet’. So, you want to encourage everyone who has got a horror story to come forward,” Johnston said.

He also took Bupa to task on incontinence pad rationing and food budget restrictions. Dvorak and Sharp promised him that no mandate was ever handed down from board level regarding either issue.

A Bupa spokesperson confirmed these points to Aged Care Insite.

“We had a meeting with Stewart Johnston today. We are always keen to listen to those who have experience in the aged care sector and appreciated the opportunity to listen to his ideas,” the spokesperson said.

“We told Stewart that he is welcome to visit some of our care homes with Suzanne Dvorak … and are discussing the best way to do this.”

Johnston said the proof will be in how Bupa reacts in the coming weeks, and added that the second meeting is more important than the first.

“The point is going to be whether they are able to deliver,” he said. “So ask me again in a couple more days … and I’ll give you that honest answer.

“We’ve left with the fact that we’ll be making contact again in the next couple of days. I’ve got the MD’s direct number. And I said, within the next week, we will formulate what we’re going to do, to continue to prove [and] show people that you’re learning,” he said.

As for the response from Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck regarding the issues facing the sector, including the Bupa saga, Johnston was less positive.

“Disappointing. And you can put that in there.”

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