Merle Mitchell, the former head of the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) and aged care activist has died, aged 87.
Mitchell started her career in early childhood education before moving into community work and eventually serving as the head of ACOSS from 1989 to 1993.
She was awarded Member for the Order of Australia in 1991.
In recent times Mitchell became well known for her activism in the aged care space as she railed against poor conditions, and her own poor treatment, in residential care, notably appearing at the Royal commission and regularly in the media.
Appearing at the first Sydney leg of the royal commission in 2019, she recalled the “terrible” time she had transitioning from an independent life to an “institution”. She spoke of the “sense of loss” she felt and feeling she had “no choice” but to conform to strict schedules imposed upon her.
When asked what the sector could do to improve, Mitchell had many well considered opinions.
Access to a counsellor for residents and staff is a must she insisted, as at times she has a “feeling that this isn’t a proper life… a feeling that the quicker this is all over the better”.
Mitchell also recounted her near-death experience in aged care.
“Three senior people” ignored Mitchell’s complaints of pain, telling her “it is all in your head”.
A fellow resident took action telling nurses that “if you don’t get Merle to a hospital you’ll be guilty of elder abuse”.
Only then was Mitchell rushed to hospital and was found to have a crushed disc and broken back.
At the end of her testimony, Mitchell was asked whether she felt that staff are adequately trained to provide care.
“No,” came the blunt reply.
And if she could nominate one thing to change in the sector?
“Ratios, ratios, ratios. Everybody will tell you that.”
“Merle was a lifelong advocate for equality, community and diversity," said ACOSS president Peter McNamara.
"She was well-known by many people in her local community and far beyond for her grace, courage and tireless advocacy. Her work helped to shape and inform state and federal government social welfare policies through her roles with both ACOSS and VCOSS."
Merle is remembered as a sharp, determined, tenacious, compassionate advocate who touched the lives of millions across her long life.
"Merle leaves an extraordinary legacy of lives made better, organisations built and stronger, and policies which have stood the test of time," said ACOSS chief executive Cassandra Goldie.
"As importantly, Merle Mitchell leaves a powerful message to us all about what true leadership really takes. Merle spoke not in slogans but with truth, heart and head, and showed us all what true courage takes.
"Merle spoke out to the end about the appalling conditions of aged care in Australia. In doing so, she showed again the power of the community voice, speaking with courage and truth. May her life and her passing call us all to do better in the days, months and years ahead.”
Ian Yates, COTA chief executive, told the ABC that Merle was a "genuine people's hero".
"From her nursing home, she was a fearsome and articulate advocate for the rights of people in aged care; a powerful, credible star witness at the aged care royal commission; and a forceful media advocate for aged rights," he said.
"Vale Merle, with thanks and appreciation from so many. You will be deeply missed."Do you have an idea for a story?
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