By Ben Wilson
On February 26, the Royal Commission into aged care will release its final report. The investigation was forced by a series of scandals that indicate mistreatment of residents in nursing homes over many years.
There are also allegations over the misuse of government funding, and the interests of members of parliament in the nursing home business. Whether this aspect will be dealt with in the report remains to be seen.
Years of funding cuts to public providers, privatisation and redirecting funding in this direction has exacted a toll. Standards have plummeted through under staffing, under training, under resourcing, and cost cutting across the board. This has led to the serious mistreatment of residents, while the owners get rich.
The report cannot avoid this and is likely to come up with a series of recommendations around these questions.
But even more important, is for there to be answers that really bring solutions. They should not be window dressing to cover a lack of action in practice.
This would involve setting much stricter standards for operators. Nursing homes must be made to properly look after those they are responsible for, as the number one priority. To do this, adequate staffing, training, and resourcing, must be enforced. Aged care workers must be treated with respect and properly rewarded for the work they do.
Funding for public nursing homes must be restored and bad operators shut down. The use of government handouts as easy money to pocket must come to an end. Evidence of operators knowingly cutting corners for personal benefit should lead to prosecutions, banning from the industry and other suitable punishment. Behaviour of this sort causes misery and death and it should be a criminal offense
Even if all of this is recognised and solutions put into effect, there remains that nursing homes should not be places to go and wait to die. Nursing homes should be places where life remains as normal as possible, with purpose and enjoyment. They should be safe places.
They should not be places to be bored to death, and where one is isolated from family, friends, and the wider community.
This means aged care is not just about nursing homes. They must be part of the package of community care and continuing to live life. This means a rethink of the place of older people in society, accepting their continuing participation and value to the community.
The Royal Commission report is unlikely to deal at all with this side of the problem.
At least, the report will highlight the poor state of the industry, and likely recognise that major change is needed. Given this, it will provide opportunity to press the government into doing something real.
It will also provide an opportunity, to raise across the Australian community the matter of the place of older people amongst us and the need to treat them with justice.
Australia owes this to those who have contributed to building our nation. We owe it to ourselves. Most of us will one day join the ranks of the aged and those needing care.
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