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Japara under fire again for resident abuse

A former Japara employee verbally and physically abused residents leaving them crying and “visibly upset” but was still allowed to keep their job for a number of years, the royal commission heard at its Melbourne hearing.

The personal care worker at Japara’s Bayview aged care facility, referred to under the pseudonym ‘UA’, was initially implicated in four separate instances of abuse involving three residents at the facility before any action was taken.

UA was found to have “pushed” hot food into one resident’s mouth, causing them to gag. They were also found to have hosed one resident down with cold water, and threw a call bell at another resident, injuring their leg – all among a number of documented incidents of abuse.

Even after the claims were substantiated through an internal investigation, UA was let off with a written first and final warning, which was later downgraded to a first warning due to “the absence of proven wilful and malicious intent”. UA then went on to commit further offences. UA was directed to take elder abuse training as punishment.

In January 2016, an anonymous complaint was made “alleging that staff member UA was changing FR into her nightie. He forced her head and neck down causing terrible pain”. Due to the downgrading of the previous incidents, UA couldn’t be fired but was once again directed to complete an “elder abuse learning package”, which he had already twice undertaken.

More incidents and warnings followed culminating in April 2016, when UA stomped on a resident’s clothes and slapped them in the face.

The resident’s daughter brought the incident to the attention of the now retired Bayview manager Dianne Minch – who took to the commission stand – in a letter.

“I believe he should be sacked because it is unacceptable for a person in charge of the wellbeing of a resident to do what he did, especially when it was completely unprovoked. It isn’t good enough for him to continue at Bayview even in a different section. He shouldn’t have any access to Mum whatsoever. Who knows what he’s capable of,” she wrote.

“I suppose it will be like the Catholic priests who are moved on to offend elsewhere. I know this is hard for you, Di, but this is a very serious matter.”

UA resigned before an investigation could be completed.

The incident in January 2016 was reported to the Department of Health and the police, as required by the Aged Care Act.

Nicole Farrell, a human resources advisor employed by Japara during the time UA committed the abuse, seemed to have little recollection of the finer details of the case. Counsel assisting Peter Rozen suggested that this was strange.

“So, I’m trying to understand why you have such little recollection of this. One explanation might be that it wasn’t out of the ordinary. Is that the explanation?” he said.

Farrell disagreed with this characterisation, instead replying that “the explanation is that it’s four-and-a-half years ago”.

When quizzed on the downgrading of the first and final warning, Farrell said that Japara “reviewed the information available to us at the time and felt it was unjust, harsh, unreasonable”.

The commission also heard that the terms of UA’s resignation would not alert future employers of his previous misconduct.

“It might potentially be misleading to a future employer, do you think?” Rozen said.

“Yes, but the future employer may not have information of what has previously happened at Japara,” replied Farrell.

“Well, that’s my point, really… If this is all they had, then it could potentially be misleading.”

“I agree,” said Farrell.

This is not the first time Japara has been in the firing line at the royal commission. Its chief executive, Mark Sudholz, faced intense scrutiny over his dealing with the families of other abuse victims at Japara facilities.

Japara is one of the nation’s largest aged care providers with 50 nursing homes and revenues of over $394 million.

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