A lack of residential aged care services in rural and remote Northern Territory is forcing older Australians to move hours away from their family and community, the aged care royal commission heard.
The fifth public hearing of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, which opened in Darwin on Monday, is focusing on aged care service access and quality for rural and regional Australians, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and recipients’ quality of life.
In his opening address Senior Counsel Assisting Peter Gray told the royal commission that limited aged care services, cultural factors and the sheer distance that needs to be travelled by remote and very remote community members has culminated in unmet needs in the Northern Territory.
Almost one in five Northern Territorians who might need aged care services are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over the age of 50, which is about 13 times the national average, he said.
This higher proportion is reflected in the NT’s model, where 38 per cent of aged care services are delivered through the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Flexible Aged Care (NATSIFAC) Program, which delivers 0.4 per cent of aged care services nationally, Mr Gray said.
“The provision of residential care places in the Territory is well below the nation-wide level of residential care places per capita,” Mr Gray told the hearing.
There are 124 home support outlets, 55 home care service providers and 12 residential aged care providers which cater for 525 residents in the Northern Territory along with 14 NATSIFAC service providers, which collectively provide 171 residential places and 178 home care places, he said.
The occupancy rate for residential aged care in the NT (94.4 per cent) is also higher than the national average (90 per cent), said Mr Gray who added that this week’s royal commission would hear “a story that these numbers don’t tell.”
The royal commission heard evidence from aged care resident Mildred Nuamurandiri, who is an elder and traditional owner of Numbulwar, a community about 800 kilometres drive south-east of Darwin.
Ms Nuamurandiri, who has been a resident at Darwin’s Terrace Gardens Aged Care since February 2018, was forced to relocate because of no suitable aged care services in Numbulwar.
Ms Nuamunandri told the royal commission in a pre-recorded video statement that she was sent to Royal Darwin Hospital at the beginning of 2018 because she had pneumonia and when she was discharged to go home a month later, she was taken to Terrace Gardens Aged Care.
“I was crying for four weeks ….. sad for my family. So I couldn’t stop until they came, visit me and it’s too far for us – for me – my family travelling, my daughter and my two grandson,” Ms Nuamunandri said.
She said her family need to drive about 14-hours to visit her on a road where lot of accidents can occur.
Ms Nuamundari said she is sad when she talks to her family over the phone and called for a facility close to home.
“I make them sad and I myself sad… My heart is crying because I far away from my family,” Ms Nuamundari said. “Because if I pass away here, I’ve got my spirit, my culture, my ceremony way back home at home and my family, they don’t want that way, because we’ve got everything there in the home,” she said.
“We don’t have aged care closer… in our community. I’m asking to build aged care in our community… please,” Ms Nuamunandri said.
Dr Meredith Hansen-Knarhoi, a general practitioner at Danila Dilba Health Service who spends one day a week at the facility, told the royal commission that Ms Nuamunadri has been unable to return home since she moved into the facility and has faced many difficulties keeping in touch with her family.
“We are dependent on a mobile phone, and it took some months to sort out a mobile phone for Mildred that she could use because there is no phone, no service in the residential care,” Dr Hansen-Knarhoi told the inquiry.
Commissioner Richard Tracey asked Dr Hansen-Knarhoi whether there is a suitable aged care facility closer to Ms Nuamunadri’s community that could be considered.
Dr Hansen-Knarhoi said there was no realistic alternative for Ms Nuamunadri or people from her remote community.
“The nearest is Rocky Ridge in Katherine. That’s still a five to six hour drive from Numbulwar… So there isn’t realistically anywhere that Mildred could live in that’s right on country for her,” Dr Hansen-Knarhoi said.
The hearing continues this week.
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