Those who read the headlines may believe that the coronavirus is the catalyst for a crisis in our aged care facilities. This is not the case.

 

 

The nightly TV news is dramatic and scary for Aussie families. Aged care in Australia is now in crisis. Because of the coronavirus. Bullshit.

The aged care crisis is not new. The treatment of elderly Australians in aged care facilities around the country has been a national scandal for decades – even going back as far as the ‘kerosene bath’ scandal when Bronwyn Bishop was Health Minister. Back to when John Howard was Prime Minister and he softened the rules, giving a green light to voracious private aged care facilities to turn the care of our elderly into an easy way to make lots of money. Millions. Billions.

People do not realise that the federal government gives millions, hundreds of millions, of taxpayers’ money subsidising commercial owners of old age centres. And it has, obviously, predictably, boiled down to profit before passionate care. Money before morality. And there are still no transparency laws to show where all that government money goes.

That’s why I was not surprised to learn – when I was a senator in Canberra and pushing hard for the Royal Commission into aged care — that the average spend on food per day per resident was $6.07. Jesus wept. Prisoners get more. I know. The last time I was in jail (he says) I got $10 a day and all the free milk I wanted. We could have steak, chicken, kebabs, you name it. 

Something is rotten in the state of Australia when prisoners daily eat better than pensioners inside, and even outside, aged care facilities.

In the Senate, I personally pushed hard for mandatory ratios of nurses and other carers in aged care centres around Australia. No other party would touch it. They did not want to know. Not the Libs nor the Nationals (who all, for months, even baulked at a royal commission which Morrison now boasts he commissioned), not the Greens and not even Labor — even though I was backing a cause pushed by the nurses and midwives’ union.

I went to a big, emotional rally in Moonee Ponds, in Bill Shorten territory, with former union boss Ged Kearney (before she got elected) and with dedicated union leaders pushing for those registered nurse ratios.

 

Something is rotten in the state of Australia when prisoners daily eat better than pensioners inside, and even outside, aged care facilities.

 

At that rally, I dragged out an old Hinch radio and TV line about respect and decency for our elderly. People who built this country. Australian men and women who had worked (and paid taxes) for 50 or 60 years and deserved to be treated with respect and protection in their dotage.

My radio and TV quote: ‘Politicians forget that the only difference between them and old people is that they got there first’. Ain’t that the truth? And then I became both old and a politician.

Private care has become so nakedly commercial that harming short cuts have been made to keep the profit margins up. Lowly paid casuals too often fill the schedule slots. I have recent examples where some casuals have no training, no first aid, and don’t even speak English. 

I received an email the other day from a man who said his mother only gets a shower once every four days with the assistance of a nurse. When he asked the aged care provider to assist his mother more frequently when showering, they demanded additional payment for a ‘higher quality of care’. A daily shower is a ‘higher quality of care’? How much would they charge to change your sheets once a week for crissake?

All of this, sadly, does not surprise me. When I was in the Senate, I saw aged care documents that showed staff being told they were allotted six minutes to shower and dress a resident. (Or ‘client’ as the memo called them). I’m still fairly agile for an old bloke, but I could not possibly do both of those things in six minutes. No way.

 


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Beleaguered Victorian premier Daniel Andrews copped a heap of crap when he was unguardedly honest at his daily media appearance this week and said he would not put his own ailing mother into some of the sub-standard private facilities under the spotlight right now. 

I understand and empathise while feeling for the families who have no choice. It’s worse during Covid-19. Family visits are verboten or conducted by phone through glass windows. People with dementia cannot understand why there are no visitors or carers. When the worst happens, families cannot be there to say goodbye to a loved one.

Final point: Don’t let federal governments, Liberal or Labor, try to lay this all on the Coronavirus. They have both let down our vulnerable elderly for years. Bloody years.

 

 

 

 

 

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