Our aged care industry has been a for-profit racket since the Howard days. And it’s exactly why I’m cynical about promises of change.

 

 

While researching this article, one little story stuck in my mind – and in my craw. It shrieked of indignity and cost-cutting. At a Queensland hospital, an 87-year-old man asked a nurse for a bed-pan because he urgently needed to pee. The nurse explained they only had two for his entire ward, and asked him if he could wait.

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More taxpayers’ dollars were spent on my food when I was in jail than is spent on most daily feeds for elderly Australians. That is true. I got $10 a day to buy food. In aged care facilities, it is $6.07. In the slammer, we had the option of steaks, roast chicken and as much free milk as we wanted. Compare that to what people in aged care get proffered. Sometimes it’s just party pies for dinner. 

So, don’t be fooled by the unctuous bleatings of our leaders in Canberra after the release of the Royal Commission into aged care and its scathing conclusions. It should come as no shock to anyone. No wonder the royal commission highlighted ‘staggering’ rates of malnutrition and unplanned weight loss in Australian nursing homes. Witnesses testified that unplanned weight loss was ‘rife’ because there was not enough money to buy food nor enough staff to help residents to eat.

For years, I said to politicians on radio and television: ‘The only difference between old people and you, is that they got there first’.  

Then I became a politician and also an old person. In the Senate, I tried to get support for nurse and carer ratios in aged care facilities. I had huge support from nurses and some MPs like Ged Kearney. We even had a huge rally in Moonee Ponds — Bill Shorten’s electorate. I got nowhere. In Canberra, I got no support. Not from the Nats, nor the Liberals, Labor or even the Greens. 

That’s why I cringed when watching the Prime Minister’s crocodile tears this week. It’s why I tweeted: ‘Why did it take a Royal Commission for any government to treat old Australians with decency and respect?’ Why indeed? It has been a bloody disgrace for decades.

And don’t let governments, Liberal or Labor, state or federal, try to somehow blame these parlous conditions on the coronavirus pandemic. They have all let down our vulnerable elderly for bloody years. Let down Australian stalwarts who diligently paid taxes for 50 or 60 years, and who just want some comfort and dignity and support in their twilight years.

 


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Didn’t Kevin Rudd leak a Labor Government Cabinet discussion accusing Julia Gillard of saying there were no Labor votes in old people? But the blame can be sheeted home to both sides. Decades ago, we had the kerosene bath scandal in Melbourne when Bronwyn Bishop was the federal Health Minister.

For years, it has been a sick joke in the industry that inspectors call a nursing home before arriving for an ‘impromptu’ inspection. Time for the home to bring in extra staff and clean the place up before returning to neglectful normalcy.

Nurses and carers have told me horror stories. They are given minutes to shower and dress frail residents. Often people don’t even have time to have their teeth brushed. 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 and I could not possibly do both of those things in six minutes. Broken alarm systems go unfixed for days because these things cost money, you know.

In my opinion, the degradation of our aged care system goes back to when John Howard was prime minister. He softened the rules and gave a green light to voracious private aged care facilities to turn the care of our elderly into a motza. An easy way to make lots of money. 

 

Morrison dramatically announced (as he flourished the Royal Commission report) that his government had committed another $452 million to the cause. He failed to mention that about $300 million of that will go straight to the coffers of the private health care facility owners.

 

Many people still do not realise that the federal government gives millions, hundreds of millions, of taxpayers’ money to the commercial owners of old age centres. It has become profit before passionate care. Money before morality. 

This week, Prime Minister Morrison dramatically announced (as he flourished the Royal Commission report) that his government had committed another $452 million to the cause. He failed to mention that about $300 million of that will go straight to the coffers of the private health care facility owners. And there are still no transparency laws to show where all that government money goes.

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

In the past 20-25 years there have been 18 inquiries into aged care.

Will this one have a different, positive, result? For the sake of parents and grandparents, I hope so.

 

 

 

 

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