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There’s still joy and connection in aged care amid the horrific stories

Amid horrific aged care stories, there is joy, care and connection

Residential aged care has suffered two fresh blows in the past fortnight.

First, there was the terrible story of 95-year-old Clare Nowland, who was allegedly tasered by a police officer in her aged care home in Cooma. 

Ms Nowland died in hospital last week.

Along with Ms Nowland's story emerged an earlier and similar one; that of Rachel Grahame, a dementia patient handcuffed by police at her aged care home in 2020.

The incident caused such distress that Ms Grahame spent six weeks in hospital recovering from the trauma. 

Two absolutely dreadful stories.

Two stories that, for many Australians, particularly older people and their adult children considering their parents' future care needs, cemented their already negative perceptions about our sector.

Yet, these two stories, as shocking and terrible as they are, bear little resemblance to the aged care we experience in St Vincent's-run homes and homes operated by our not-for-profit peers.

Hardly a day goes by that we don't get to hear about a genuinely moving or inspiring story.

The extraordinary care our people have provided a resident or a heartfelt expression of thanks from the adult child of a resident parent.

At the same time, I wish every day that more Australians could see the type of support, love, attention and respect characterising residential aged care as I know it.

But how can aged care providers turn around such negative narratives that appeared over the past fortnight?

Is it enough to just do our jobs and hope it'll make a difference?

Will there ever be a time my aged care colleagues aren't afraid or embarrassed to tell others they work in aged care? 

About six months ago, St Vincent's Care decided to do something about answering those questions.

One of the issues we frequently hear are concerns of family members about putting their older parents into residential aged care because they're genuinely fearful after hearing so many negative stories.

At the same time, we hear from potential residents – again, misinformed by the same negative stories – that they're afraid to lose their independence.

This week (June 5), we launched a campaign to address those issues head-on.

'Celebrating You' is an online, short-episode TV series that profiles our residents, their loved ones, and our carers as they really are.

It's a series that tells the truth about residential aged care and how it's overwhelmingly built on the beautiful relationships between residents, employees, families, and volunteers.

About how the independence and individuality of residents are not just maintained but encouraged.

What stands out most from the series is how residents and aged care workers bond and support each other. 

They're authentic. Honest. Positive.

Don't get me wrong, behind our campaign's smiling faces and genuine care and affection, I realise our sector is still in crisis.

At last count, two-thirds of aged care providers are financially underwater.

We're all struggling to find enough workers to fill shifts.

Worst of all, many of aged care's most valued workers – therapists, dieticians, pastoral carers, activity coordinators, cooks, cleaners and maintenance workers – have not been included in the recently announced 15 per cent national pay increase decision. 

They've been ignored.

And the tragic double-whammy? Their crucial contributions – providing social interaction and stimulus; giving professional care related to diet, physical therapy, and dental hygiene – are also not recognised by the new mandatory staffing model that comes into force later this year.

Come October, the vast majority of aged care providers will be placed in the unfair position of either trying to fund these workers ourselves, at a further loss or cutting them back, if not altogether.

Nevertheless, we won't let these challenges define us, our sector, or the people we serve.

We choose to tell a story about what makes aged care special, about what makes us proud. 

A story about healthy ageing - that sees people as getting old-er (not 'old') and that values everyone who contributes to our sector.

A story where aged care is not a full stop, but another chapter.

Lincoln Hopper is chief of St Vincent's Care Services which runs and operates over 30 aged care and retirement living facilities in Queensland, NSW and Victoria.

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One comment

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