The aged care quality regulator failed to issue a single sanction as the COVID-19 pandemic gathered pace, despite receiving 340 complaints about infection control.

The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission received a total of 2,199 complaints in the three months to June 2020, more than 800 more than it received during the previous quarter.

It received 340 complaints about infection control and 270 complaints about communicating with family, both issues that have been at the heart of problems aged care providers have faced during outbreaks of COVID-19.

In the midst of these complaints, the Commission conducted 782 assessment contacts in the quarter, but no sanctions arose from those contacts.

The Commission put unannounced audits on hold during the June quarter, and instead conducted ‘short-notice’ inspections of aged care homes, with providers  given 24-48 hours’ notice.

During inspections, aged care homes failed to comply with the standards 63 times. 

Five homes failed to meet the required standards for ‘effective management of high-impact or high-prevalence risks’ and ‘safe and effective personal and clinical care’.

Four homes failed to meet the standard for ‘safe, clean and well maintained service environment’.

During the June quarter, the Commission issued three ‘notices to agree’, including to Newmarch House, which set out certain actions a provider must take within a set timeframe.

A notice to agree requires the provider to appoint an independent adviser to provide direction and advice to address any non-compliances. Providers are also required to give close, ongoing attention to keeping residents and families informed about the regulatory actions. Notices to agree also require providers to immediately implement and comply with all advice, recommendations and directions of Victorian local health authorities.

But no sanctions were issued during the period. 

Sanctions impose a heavier financial penalty on the home. They can be issued when the Commission considers the home to pose a ‘serious or severe’ risk to residents. When sanctions are imposed, the provider must appoint experts to its staff for a set period to help them resolve its problems and the home also can’t take in any new residents for a set period, usually six months.

“It’s hard to believe”

It is jarring that despite the obvious failings in aged care homes during the three months to June, as evidenced by the complaints and the Commission’s own assessment of failures to meet the standards, no sanctions were issued. 

As Joseph Ibrahim, head of the health law and ageing research unit at Monash University, told The Australian, the large number of complaints was a clear sign of community distress. 

“It’s hard to believe that from 2000 complaints, not a single regulatory action appears to have been taken,” he said. 

HelloCare put questions to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission but at the time of publishing had not received a response.

Image: shape charge, iStock.

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