A nursing home system that provides dignity and a reason to live is what Australia needs

By Ugly

We all know that the $22 billion aged care industry in Australia is a scandal. Bad for patients and set up for unscrupulous private providers to exploit, which the government has helped to make it this way.

Just how bad it has become, is being revealed in the Aged Care Royal Commission.

Professor Ron Paterson’s testimony is an example. This international expert on patient rights and health care, had been commissioned in 2017 with another person, Kate Carnell, to investigate a nursing home in South Australia called Oakden. It had become notorious for the mistreatment of patients and the report that came out recommended a list of changes.

Photo by Mark Brake: Entrance to the Oakden Nursing home

Professor Paterson spoke at the Royal Commission about another case. This time, it was Earle Haven on the Gold Coast. Evidence says this place has been using physical restraint in a big way and over prescribing psychotropic drugs as patient management techniques, as well as forcing charges so high that many have lost their homes.

Photo from the ABC: Earle Haven Nursing home

This is only one case.

Shocking footage of restrained aged care residents prompts new regulations
Video by ABC News (Australia)

Professor Patterson told the Royal Commission that “listening to the examples of how cases like Earle Haven are actually being handled this year suggests to me that the lessons have not yet been learnt, and I can see why there’s been a need for this Royal Commission.”

This is an understatement. The operation of nursing homes must be strictly regulated, if they are going to operate in the interests of patients. Failure to do this, has meant that bad operators have continued to without hindrance. They continue to hold out their hand for generous government subsidies and give the minimum in return.

Mistreatment of the elderly will continue until this changes.

It is high time Australia started thinking of an alternative for aged care. There is one principle on which this must rest. This is that proper care with dignity for those becoming frailer is treated as fundamental human right.

This means that aged care is no longer bassed on the idea that it is something to make a quick busk out of. If regulation is tied to meeting certain criteria, there could be an ending to meanness and improper care.

Wages and working conditions in the industry are so poor that properly qualified people don’t want to work in it. Nursing homes are often understaffed and relying on people having to perform duties that they are not properly qualified to carry out.

Aged care workers at the Sunnymeade Park Aged Care Community at Caboolture (Queensland) campainging for a better deal in June 2019

Regulation to ensure proper wages, working conditions and matching qualifications and experiences with tasks at the highest standard is the only way to fix this. Providers that can’t meet this standard should not be allowed to operate.

A proper working environment would go a long way to overcome the practice of physically restraining and using drugs. It would also ensure that people in nursing homes will get proper nutrition, exercise and stimulation.

But providing a decent working environment not enough on its own.

Nursing homes should never be places in which to put away our elderly and infirm, somewhere to die out of sight. They must be places that ensure quality of life.

The biggest problems are not being treated with respect and not having anything meaningful to do with one’s life. Every one of us, while we remain conscious, needs a reason to wake up in the morning, to have something worthwhile to do, instead of just being forced to live like a vegetable. We all need to enjoy life and not be bored to death by it.

So long as the mind set on how nursing homes operate doesn’t remains as it is, and those who run them continue to see their patients as wallets with clothes on, rather than real human beings, nothing is ever really going to change.

Nursing homes must be regulated to ensure that they are run to provide dignity and a reason to keep on living, with activities that are stimulating and provide social contact within the capacity of the individual.

But don’t wait for the Royal Commission to make this happen. It will need a much bigger effort than this.

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