Aged Care: Neglect!

Opening statements of Interim Report (2019): It’s not easy growing old. We avoid thinking and talking about it. As we age, we progressively shift our focus from work to the other things that give us purpose and joy: our children and grandchildren, our friends, our holidays, our homes and gardens, our local communities, our efforts as volunteers, our passions and hobbies. The Australian community generally accepts that older people have earned the chance to enjoy their  later years, after many decades of contribution and hard work. Yet the language of public discourse is not respectful towards older people. Rather, it is about burden, encumbrance, obligation and whether taxpayers can afford to pay for the dependence of older people.

As a nation, Australia has drifted into an ageist mindset that undervalues older people and limits their possibilities. Sadly, this failure to properly value and engage with older people as equal partners in our future has extended to our apparent indifference towards aged care services. Left out of sight and out of mind, these important services are floundering. They are fragmented, unsupported and underfunded. With some admirable exceptions, they are poorly managed. All too often, they are unsafe and seemingly uncaring. This must change.

Australia prides itself on being a clever, innovative and caring country.  Why, then, has the Royal Commission found these qualities so signally lacking in our aged care system?

We have uncovered an aged care system that is characterised by an absence of innovation and by rigid conformity. The system lacks transparency in communication, reporting and accountability. It is not built around the people it is supposed to help and support, but around funding mechanisms, processes and procedures. This, too, must change.

Our public hearings, roundtable discussions with experts, and community forums have revealed behaviour by aged care service providers that, when brought to public attention, has attracted criticism and, in some cases, condemnation. Many of the cases of deficiencies or outright failings in aged care were known to both the providers concerned and the regulators before coming to public attention. Why has so little been done to address these deficiencies? We are left to conclude that a sector-wide focus on the need to increase funding, a culture of apathy about care essentials, and a lack of curiosity about the potential of aged care to provide restorative and loving care—all of which is underpinned by an ageist mindset— has enabled the aged care system to hide from the spotlight. This must also change.

Left isolated and powerless in this hidden-from-view system are older people and their families. ‘This is not a life.’ ‘This is not my home.’ ‘Don’t let this happen to anyone else.’ ‘Left in her own faeces, and still no one came.’ ‘Mum doesn’t feel safe.’

This cruel and harmful system must be changed. We owe it to our parents, our grandparents, our partners, our friends. We owe it to strangers. We owe it to future generations. Older people deserve so much more.

We have found that the aged care system fails to meet the needs of our older, often very vulnerable, citizens. It does not deliver uniformly safe and quality care for older people.  It is unkind and uncaring towards them. In too many instances, it simply neglects them.

Royal Commission: Aged Care Quality and Safety Interim Report