Half-hearted solutions to elder abuse

Reports in the media about the rape and sexual abuse of frail and elderly women in aged care facilities in Melbourne and Canberra unleashed widespread disgust and alarm within the community.

It seems it take a frenzy of public outrage to move the government to act on issues of abuse and improper practice by unlicensed aged care workers – problems long raised by the NSWNA.

The Minister for Ageing Santo Santoro was prompted to call a special meeting of the Aged Care Advisory Committee – with ANF representation – to discuss solutions to the problems of abuse of the elderly in residential aged care.

The outcome was an announcement of short-term fixes including police checks of aged care staff, an increase in random checks on nursing homes and compulsory reporting of sexual and physical abuse of residents.

The measures fall short of the longer-term measures supported by the NSWNA including the licensing of personal care assistants and overcoming staffing shortages to improve the aged care workforce.

NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes said, ‘Abuse, improper practice or inadequate care are all serious problems that can be perpetuated within a workforce that has no system of licensing.

‘In the majority of cases, employers sack accused workers, who go on to perpetuate the abuse or problems in their practice at other workplaces,’ he said.

‘It is difficult for employers or a worker’s colleagues to predict the abusive behaviour or improper practice of an individual. The ability of an employer to trace past offences depends on whether criminal matters were pursued, which is most often not the case,’ said Brett.