Response to Lateline programs on aged care from QACAG

Quality Aged Care Action Group Inc. (QACAG) is a NSW-based group that includes residents in aged care, relatives, friends and carers, nurses and retired nurses, and other community members committed to aged care. This is their response to two reports on ABC’s Lateline of 15-16 July.

Older people are caught in the middle of an aged care system struggling to own up to its failings. The government tells us they have lifted funding and revamped the accreditation and complaints systems, the providers tell us they are overregulated and underfunded; meanwhile older people’s own experiences are too often minimised as isolated incidents or one-offs.

QACAG members have long been sharing their stories and have made submissions to numerous government inquiries and consultations, visited MPs, attended community events, run petitions and postcard campaigns, held stalls in shopping centres, written letters and spoken to media.

Our messages rarely change because the problems remain the same:

  • Rushed care due to inadequate staffing numbers
  • Delayed or incorrect clinical care due to not enough RNs or other suitably qualified staff
  • Excessive reliance on family and friends to plug gaps in care on a daily basis
  • Cost cutting of food quality and quantity and not enough staff to properly help residents with meals
  • Apologetic and overworked staff buckling under the burden of too many people to care for on one shift
  • Older people and relatives reticent to speak up due to politeness, possible repercussions or experiences that no significant change has resulted
  • A disconnect between the accreditation system and the lived experiences of older people in care.   Many QACAG members have experienced poor care and systemic failures firsthand.

“By the time my husband moved to a nursing home, I was physically and emotionally exhausted, but I quickly found that if I wasn’t there every day, my husband wasn’t getting enough care. As well as making sure he got continence care or didn’t fall, I soon found myself looking out for other residents too and asking their relatives to do the same for me in the evenings when I couldn’t be there. We all felt more like carers than visitors. There just wasn’t the staff to do it.” (Margaret, past carer, President QACAG)

“It’s a paper reality. Private and not-for-profit organisations juggle taxpayers’ money through economies of scale and interest earnings on bonds to expand aged care holdings while their residents (our relatives) sit waiting for hours for a nurse, with dozens of other residents to care for, to finally get to them.” (Anon, has relative in care)

“My brother and I rostered ourselves to cover the week, while we both worked full time too. Sometimes Dad would get a square of baked egg and a square of jelly for dinner at 5.30pm, then not get the next ‘meal’ until 8am the next day. He was hungry! Often the food was inedible, dried out or cold. We made suggestions, complained repeatedly, but the only solution was to bring food in and aim to be there for two meals a day. The home recently passed accreditation. Nutrition is a basic right and it breaks my heart and makes me so mad!” (Jo, RN and father was in nursing home)

QACAG gave written and verbal input to the Productivity Commission Inquiry of 2009/10. Many of the Living Longer Living Better reforms might result in long term improvements, such as more packages to help people stay at home, consumer-directed care models, better support for carers, a central entry point to the aged care system and fairer payment systems for bonds and fees. The workforce supplement will start to close the wages gap and help attract and retain more nurses and care staff into aged care.

However, we remain bitterly disappointed that there are no reforms towards mandatory staffing numbers and skill mix in residential aged care.

In addition, QACAG believes that government funds provided to private and not for profit providers should be wholly used for provision of aged care, with a direct link between funding and staffing levels, based on each resident’s care needs. Profits should be reinvested directly into care and not funnelled out to support other ventures or to satisfy shareholders. Complaints are often met with claims of inadequate funding. We want transparency, so the community can see if funding is adequate or not, and where any changes need to be targeted.

On Lateline the new Minister for Ageing Jacinta Collins said that the system is doing a pretty good job and that the government has a 10-year plan. The CEO of the largest peak body for providers of aged care acknowledged that there are systemic failings that impact on the care standards older people and their loved ones and that at best the system is ‘competent’. (Professor John Kelly, CEO, Aged and Community Services Australia.) There was even a call for a Royal Commission by lawyer Rodney Lewis.

What resonates more are the countless stories of sadness, anger, grief and frustration submitted to Lateline by older people, their relatives and loved ones. These stories are not new, but they are out there in a new way.

Is this finally a turning point? We hope so. It is not enough to just talk about funding shortfalls and the burgeoning aged population, it is time to own up to the flaws and failings and the heartache this causes older people and their loved ones. It is time to fix it and to put older people and their advocates at the very centre of the problem solving.

Aged care is a human rights issue; it is about what value we place on the care of older people and how swiftly and effectively we act when that care is falling short. There needs to be action now.

Contact: 0428 404 609 or 8595 1234

Stella Topaz, Secretary QACAG

Margaret Zanghi, President of QACAG

Quality Aged Care Action Group Inc. (QACAG) is a NSW-based community group committed to quality of care for older people in community and residential aged care.Our group, formed in 2005, includes residents in aged care, relatives, friends and carers, nurses and retired nurses, care and allied health staff, and other community members committed to aged care. QACAG is an incorporated group funded by membership fees and donations with administrative support from the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association.

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