The Aged Care Commissioner Rhonda Parker has described the system which allowed recurrent failings to occur at the remote Docker River aged care service as “unacceptable”.
In a report to the Minister for Ageing, Justine Elliot, Ms Parker said inadequate legislative controls for the flexible Aboriginal service meant “sustained and significant” efforts to improve it were ineffective.
The Department of Health and Ageing received two complaints about the Northern Territory service back in 2005 but Ms Parker said there was little it could do in response.
“Without a regulatory framework and in particular the capacity to sanction, any response to complaints by the Department was frustrated and limited,” the commissioner’s report said.
“The failure to develop and evolve this avant-garde program to provide it with protective mechanisms and program support to ensure consistent quality, despite repeated commitments from departmental forums to do so, is unacceptable.”
Since that time, Ms Parker found the facility had experienced numerous incidents, including cases of over-medication, under-medication, violence against staff and residents from community members and infectious outbreaks caused by the presence of dog faeces.
Problems at the facility culminated in the accidental death of 72-year-old resident, Dulcie Brumby, who fell into a fire pit in June this year.
In her investigation, Ms Parker identified serious shortfalls in the facility’s physical environment.
During a site visit, the commissioner wrote that she observed beds with bare mattresses, grime-stained walls and poor provisions for infection control.
“There were no hand-washing facilities in the immediate vicinity of the rooms,” the report said.
“To wash my hands, I was required to walk to the kitchen/dining section of the facility and wash my hands in a sink which is also used as a dish washing sink.”
Ms Parker also found “significant gaps” in the home’s financial management along with high staff turnover.
The report did however welcome the Rudd Government’s promise to introduce a new set of culturally-appropriate standards for flexible Aboriginal aged care services.
Mrs Elliot issued a statement saying that consultation on the drafting of these standards will begin soon.