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Community care worker Marlene Field. Photo: HammondCare

Royal commission nod for community care worker who walked 6km to visit client

In the counsel assisting’s final submissions to the aged care royal commission, between detailed accounts of workforce and governance issues, is the uplifting story of a community care worker who walked 6km to visit a dying client.

In March this year, Marlene Field, who’s with HammondCare At Home, was asked to drop by a client’s house for an evening visit when she had to pull over after her engine light came on and the temperature rose.

Field said: “It was about 5.50pm but I thought, ‘It’s not that far away’, so I rang scheduling and asked them to contact Patricia’s son and let him know that I was on my way but I was on foot. I would worry about my car later.

“I thought to myself, ‘It’s just around the corner and over that hill’ but as I got walking – and it was a hot day – I realised it may have been further than I imagined.

“Along the way I saw a woman walking two beagles and as I drew near, one of them escaped its harness and was heading towards the busy road, so I grabbed the beagle and returned it as well. I thought, ‘I was meant to break down to save that beagle!’”

Field arrived at her client’s around 40 minutes later.

“It’s what we do,” she said.

“Look, I’m not really someone to ask for a lot of help. It never occurred to me to ring scheduling and ask them to send someone else.

“I’ve got two legs, and I knew it was important that it was someone the family knew.”

Field was surprised there had been publicity about her story, including through the royal commission but said she didn’t do it for a “pat on the back” but because “this lady was dying, and we put the client first”.

“I’ve always put the client first, and we have to support a good death.”

In their submission, the counsel assisting said while the COVID-19 outbreak has revealed the structural weaknesses in the aged care workforce, it has also thrown up “a number of inspirational examples of the dedication of aged care workers”.

As well as Field’s story, the lawyers shone the spotlight on a Perth-based nurse who volunteered to come to Melbourne at the height of the crisis in aged care homes in early September and later tested positive to the virus.

“There are of course many other such stories some of which have been the subject of evidence in this inquiry,” the counsel assisting said. “It is high time that this dedication and commitment by aged care workers to those for whom they provide care is properly recognised and rewarded.

“The vast majority are women and the low pay they receive is nothing less than the aged care system exploiting the goodness of their hearts.

“As we said in February, aged care workers do not need to be told they are heroes. They need better wages and conditions and enough colleagues to be able to complete their work safely and to the standard that they consider is appropriate.

“That is how their work can be properly respected and acknowledged.”

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