Aged care’s COVID lessons must not be ignored like the many reports: opinion

Australians are sick of the blame game and the buck passing when it comes to aged care, writes Rachel Siewert.

Australians are sick of the blame game and the buck passing when it comes to aged care, writes Rachel Siewert.

Australians are watching with heavy hearts as the number of aged care residents and staff diagnosed with COVID-19 continues every day. The outbreaks of COVID-19 in Australian aged care facilities have exposed a system that was broken long before the pandemic arrived.

Over the past few months we have seen countless examples of chronic understaffing, too few nurses, and poor infectious disease control procedures plaguing aged care facilities. Families are being left in the dark about the wellbeing of their loved ones. Entire workforces have been sent home to self-isolate.

Rachel Siewert

It is distressing to think that the scale of COVID-19 outbreaks in aged care could have been prevented or at least not as severe if the Commonwealth Government and aged care providers had done more.

After more than 35 public reviews of the aged care sector in 40 years, you would think that the Commonwealth Government would have acted more strongly by now. The harsh reality is that aged care is not seen as a priority by this Government and Governments that have come before it.

Failures in clinical care are responsible for many of the cases of neglect and mismanagement that we have seen. Monash University found that 15 per cent of all deaths in residential aged care facilities have preventable causes. Of these deaths, nearly 90 per cent are from falls and choking which are associated with poor clinical care.

The majority of clinical care in residential aged care facilities is provided by nurses. How are residents meant to receive adequate clinical care when there is no requirement to have at least one nurse rostered on at each facility 24 hours a day, seven days a week (24/7) and residents are not receiving the level of care that studies show is needed?

I have no doubt that the lack of nurses working at facilities and inadequate levels of care have contributed to the scale of COVID-19 outbreaks in aged care.

The 2019 Senate inquiry into clinical care highlighted the many outstanding questions about what kind of service residential aged care facilities are providing. Are they supported accommodation? Do they provide sub-acute health services? This raises the question of how you can regulate a service when it’s not clear what that service is.

Aged care facilities are increasingly providing clinical care for older Australians with high care needs. But many providers still don’t accept their role as a provider of clinical care. At the moment, it’s not clear that residential aged care services have a duty of care for residents. This shouldn’t be up for debate: aged care providers hold a duty of care to all residents. Both providers and the Government must acknowledge this.

The Commonwealth Government needs to step up and take responsibility. Australians are sick of the blame games. Families must have confidence that their parents and loved ones will be safe, well cared for and that their wellbeing will be assured. It’s not too much to ask.

What an indictment on our country when an aged care resident tells the Royal Commission that: “if you asked most people here they would all say they would rather be dead rather than living here, if they’re honest.”

We are constantly bombarded with hollow statements about how older Australians have done “so much” for this country, they’ve paid taxes and deserve better.  So why then is our aged care sector in crisis.

Why have we placed such little value on the people doing such important work looking after our mothers, fathers and grandparents? We can’t blame it on the pandemic. These issues were known about for years and are why we have a Royal Commission.

Short-term interventions while urgently needed won’t be enough. We need innovative, wide scale changes that foster a person-centred approach underpinned by quality clinical care.

We need to fix the workforce issues by mandating a minimum of one registered nurse rostered on 24/7 at aged care facilities and ensure we provide the hours of care that research show is required which is at least 4 hours and 18 minutes. We need to strengthen and properly resource the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission.

To meet these calls the Federal Government needs to urgently inject more funding into the aged care sector. These are just some of the actions that are needed.

We cannot ignore the lessons of COVID-19 outbreaks in aged care facilities as so many other reports have been ignored.

Rachel Siewert is a Federal Senator for Western Australia whose portfolios include Family, Ageing & Community Services.

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Tags: COVID19, opinion, rachel siewert, recommendations, royal commission into aged care quality and safety,

3 thoughts on “Aged care’s COVID lessons must not be ignored like the many reports: opinion

  1. There are many factors involved in this problem, successive governments that do not want to know, a government regulator that has failed time and time again even with a change of name and all the fluff that goes with it they still fall down, multi nationals that see our funding system as an easy way to make money and a community that is increasingly becoming self centered and does not want to know about ‘the old ones’.
    And stuck in the middle of all this is a workforce that genuinely cares for the people they look after, workers who sacrifice themselves every day to ensure the people they care for are looked after. Yes there are some bad eggs and this is no different than any other industry, but if you are to believe the main stream media it is the staff who are at fault, I find this the most disgusting thing of all.
    The government doesn’t address the multi nationals and their abhorrent treatment of residents and workers nor does the media, whilst if a smaller local provider is even slightly out of step, the government regulator and media are all over it.
    The industry needs a government that cares, a regulator that works with it and a community that is genuinely interested. I sometimes feel that people forget that we are all going to end up needing this system and I am sure we would want it to work for us, so why not for the ones that need it now!

  2. Based on the information now in the public domain that Residential Aged Care Facilities (RACF’s) continue to fail to provide an acceptable medical care model for seniors in care, it’s incumbent on all of us to seek out alternative care and to view RACF’s as a LAST resort only !

    The LNP has failed in Aged Care . After Friday’s senate enquiry with the Minister for Aged Care there should be no doubt that Residential aged care is an abysmal failure in 2020.

    It was failing prior to this but Covid -19 has shone a light on the extreme failure of the system and the entire country is now aware of some of the horrors that families, staff and advocates have been distressed about and advocating for change for years now, to agencies, peak bodies, govt, and providers. We need RATIOS, FINANCIAL ACCOUNTABILITY, A NEW AGED CARE ACT, and a NEW MINISTER !
    and enrolled and general trained nurses to meet those staffing ratios.

  3. I agree with the majority of what Laurence has said, but I don’t agree with the, perhaps unintended, racism about “multi-nationals”. Who are these “multi-national facility owners” you speak of Laurence?
    There are plenty of Australian providers who are out of step with the quality standards – one being … a for-profit player, hit hard by Covid-19 in his facilities.
    Another is driving a Ferrari to work … yet feeding residents hot-dogs and party pies for main meals…
    I think the Government needs to take a serious look at the for-profit sector and the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission needs to crack down on Standard 8 with these facilities. They are still placing profits over people.

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