Deadly trend fuels aged care funding campaign

The aged care sector may have found an unlikely ally in a Member of the South Australian upper house, who supports increases to wages and staffing levels. He also wants to know why more nursing homes deaths are being reported to the SA Coroner.

Above: Robert Brokenshire MLC.

By Stephen Easton

A South Australian state politician has uncovered a sharp rise in the number of deaths in the state’s aged care facilities reported to the SA Coroner over the last five years, and so far nobody can explain why.

Robert Brokenshire MLC, a member of the SA upper house, obtained figures from the State Coroner’s office showing a 63 per cent rise in the number of deaths in nursing homes reported to the Coroner.

In contrast, deaths among all people aged over 80 increased by only 17 per cent in the same period, Mr Brokenshire said.

He now wants the Minister for Mental Health, Ageing and Social Inclusion, Mark Butler, to launch an investigation into whether a similar increase has occurred across the other states and territories.

“I’m writing to the minister to say I don’t want to be an alarmist, but there is an issue here,” Mr Brokenshire said. “We do need to have a national review into this trend with respect to all nursing homes, and if there is a [national] trend, what can be done to reduce that.”

Each year, about 4,500 people die in South Australian nursing homes, but they are only reported to the Coroner if they are suspected of being from other than natural causes, according to a news report.

The Family First MLC obtained the figures through a freedom of information request, after a constituent raised concerns about the death of a family member in a nursing home.

“From time to time most politicians would get a constituent raising concerns about matters to do with aged care and nursing homes, but in this case we had a constituent who had a very serious negative experience with a loved one dying in a nursing home, and felt that one of the issues was the lack of staff resources,” Mr Brokenshire said

“They felt from their observations that there were people dying that, arguably, may not have if there was more staff to manage the demands of these people who are in need of very good care.

“Then of course there is my anecdotal knowledge from meeting people who visit or work in aged care facilities; the staff say they are just run off their feet.”

Yesterday, a group of aged care workers, unions and employers fronted Paliament House in Canberra and demanded an $8 an hour pay rise for aged care staff. Unions such as the Australian Nursing Federation have also campaigned for increased staff-to-resident ratios in aged care for many years.

“Clearly the federal government have got to look seriously at providing bigger funding support to the aged care facilities to cover a wage increase,” Mr Brokenshire said. “There’s clearly not enough profit in the aged care sector to pick that up.

“The federal government might say they’re cash-strapped, but at the end of the day we have a duty of care to ensure that when our older Australians need nursing home care, we provide it adequately, based on the fact that those people have paid taxes for decades to help build the nation.”

“Number one: we need to be able to pay the staff adequately so we get them continuing in their work – most of them love their work but they need to be paid adequately.

“Secondly, is there sufficient money being provided by the federal government – and the states where they have to – to ensure these organisations can sustain themselves, and pay their way forward?

“Noone can run at a loss, and they should not be expected to run at a loss. If they’re running a balanced budget they will have pressure not to increase their staff ratios, the quality of the food and the general care they provide.”

Mr Brokenshire said that further stories had emerged when the figures were discussed on an Adelaide radio station this morning.

“One person in the media today said their loved one had dementia and because of a lack of staff resourcing was often left to feed themselves,” he said. “And they argued that the person eventually passed away from malnutrition because there wasn’t sufficient support to sit by that person and make sure they ate their food.

“I’m confident the aged care providers, in these facilities, do the best they can. But they can’t run at a loss and one of the highest costs in these facilities is labour.”

According to a news story published in Adelaide Now, consumer advocates Ian Yates, CEO of COTA, and Marylin Crabtree from the Aged Rights Advocacy Service agreed that federal authorities should investigate the situation.

A spokesperson from the Department of Health and Ageing, quoted in the article, made the point that people are entering nursing homes at an older age with higher care needs, but accepted that this was not a sufficient explanation for the steep rise in deaths.

The South Australian Coroner received reports about 213 deaths in aged care facilities in 2007, which has steadily increased to 346 in 2011.

Tags: coroner, death, mark-butler, residential-aged-care, south-australia,

6 thoughts on “Deadly trend fuels aged care funding campaign

  1. Yes i totally agree with the above written. I work in aged care and see it every day and how frustrating it is and how helpless i feel because it is falling on deaf ears..
    My mother is also in a facility in country town 2 hrs north of adelaide , and because i work i am unable to be there daily to help care for her because of poor staffing levels, i will visit her and she is lethargic and is unable to get out of bed because of dehydration and malnutrition. i ask for doctors to visit and usually it is 2 to 3 days before they visit!!!! very poor standards!!!! i AM SURE THE GOVT IS UNAWARE OF THESE ACTIONS I have just come back from visiting my mum 9th feb 2012 and they had accreditation visit for 3 days. i have never seen so many staff and volenteers on duty helping to paint a pretty picture for their lifestyle , what a load of shit! i visit usually during the week and they are all bored , they never get cups of tea mid morn or mid afternoon , i MAKE THEM!!! I could go on and on , these accreditors come in and are brainwashed, with all the lies all they are worried about is the paperwork and that is all lies mostly that is printed on the paperwork!!
    It disgusts me that these elderly people are paying for a service and south australia is not delivering it too them. Most of these frail people are from racist years and are frightened with the amount of african or indian carers that govt are bringing in to look after these people, their skills are poor , they work like they have only had 2 weeks training , it is disgusting!! I am a enrolled nurse and have been working in the profession for over 30 years and i feel like i am banging my head on a brick wall!!! where is the support , you say it is there but it is not and now the lives of our older generation is suffering!!!

  2. I agree that the situation should be investigated thouroughly. There should also be increased funding & more staff for aged care. These people deserve the very best of care and not to be treated the way many in these facilities are being treated.

  3. “These People” in aged care are your mum or dad, your nanna or pop, your life long friend or your neighbour for decades! “These People” have served their families, their community and their country for a lifetime and at a time when they need us most, “we” put “These People” into care.

    The workers are too few, under qualified, under paid and carry a high burden of responsibility and stress for the amount they are paid. More legislation or government departments is NOT the answer.

    Paying a decent wage and creating career paths for care nurses and staff will attract more workers and incentivise better qualified staff to aged care.

  4. While I strongly agree that aged care urgently requires reforms that will bring an adequate level of sustainable funding that will enable improved staffing ratios and better pay rates for our hard working care & support worker staff, I do not support any notion that the incidence of elderly people dying in nursing homes is abnormally high.

    The truth of the matter is that the frail aged are coming into residential care much later these days, having been successfully supported by community based care, they have journeyed to the end of the road, their body and organs are failing and yes, they come into a nursing home to die.

    The nursing home then has a responsibility to make sure that the resident’s time with them is as comfortable, loving, caring as possible. This is becoming more and more challenging simply because the Gilliard Gov’t is sitting on their hands when it comes to ensuring adequate funding is available

  5. People are entering residential aged care much frailer and have multiple co morbidities. Along with end stage heart and other organ failure they cannot be expected to live for long unlike the community dwellers of the same age.

    The high level care that is the nursing home industry is there in order to provide care with dignity and ensure the patients who are ailing remain pain and symptom free. Certainly the aged care industry and certainly residential aged care requires the resources to ensure that the direct nursing care is adequate and of the highest quality. These wonderful people are indeed our mums and dads and deserve the best.

    I would not like to see an enquiry into the increase in deaths in aged care facilities as I worry that more and more misinformed memebers of the community will drive the policy makers into keeping end stage diseased frail skeletal bodies alive at any cost. I cannot help but think back on my dear mother’s wishes when she regulary stated that when she could no longer make her own decisions and fend for herself she would not like to be a burden. I also often wonder about whose needs are we meeting our loved ones or our own

  6. After visiting many age care facilities for my mother my sister and i were horrified by the lack of care and staff. We decided to take care of my mother at the end of the day but needed a break and on a few occasions placed her in respite to our horror she was left to sit in her faeces and urine all day long and and was dehydrated when made an unexpected visit..this experience hs put me off all nursing homes and respite for good….No NUSING HOME FOR ME IN THuE FUTURE THANKYOU
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