Aged care employees bare a weight of responsibility that very few members of the workforce would have to deal with.
Being asked to care for another person is one thing, but being asked to care for an extremely vulnerable person who is nearing the end of their life, is something completely different.
The elderly can be extremely vulnerable and often require assistance on a variety of levels in order to be able to function. Being entrusted to care for these people should be a privilege and responsibility that is treated with the utmost respect.
Unfortunately though, there is a very small percentage of human beings currently working in aged care facilities, who have absolutely no business being anywhere near a frail and elderly person.
Yesterday we reported on the case of a male nurse employed at an aged care facility in NSW, who has been charged with sexually assaulting an 89 year-old woman with dementia.
The horror of the incident itself is compounded by the fact that this alleged assault was witnessed by a fellow co-worker who failed to report the incident until almost 2 months after it occured.
And while failing to report serious incidents can be the result of a number of circumstances including fear, surely the wellbeing of vulnerable and elderly residents needs to be non-negotiable, as the essence of caring for someone is putting their welfare above anything else.
What Are Current Standards for Employees?
All facilities would obviously encourage their employees to report incidents of misconduct, but some workers within the industry are held to a higher standard than others.
Nurses are required to attain registration through the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, in order to be able to work in any type of facility.
This registration requires a police background check, and has a number of regulations relating to code of conduct and professional standards.
Breaching this code by failing to report a serious incident, can result in this registration being stripped, ultimately ceasing this person’s ability to work as a nurse.
Carer’s on the other hand have no other form of scrutiny or governance outside of the rules of the facility in which they work.
This inconsistency has some calling for carers to also require some form of registration, including Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (Victorian Branch) Assistant Secretary, Paul Gilbert.
“The ANMF supports the extension of this regulatory regime to all those involved in nursing, and has long advocated for the registration of personal care workers with the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia. This would formalise their obligations and responsibilities as well as their rights and set a minimum education standard,” said Paul.
Given the discussion surrounding staff ratios recently, it’s astounding that theses facts did not garner a whole lot of attention.
Because even though facilities boast a mix of staff in order to facilitate needs, the vast majority of facilities have a much higher ratio of carers than nurses.
This means that the employees that residents deal with the most, actually have the least qualifications and least amount of scrutiny.
The Standard That You Walk Past, is the Standard That You Accept
Those who prey on vulnerable people cross a line of moral code that reaches far beyond the rules and regulations of criminal law.
And those that fail to speak up and allow these behaviours to continue are complicit in the actions of those they fail to report.
Turning a blind-eye to serious co-worker misconduct is virtually condoning their actions.
The sheer value of the task that aged care employees have been entrusted with, should dictate that those who fail to uphold its sanctity should be punished criminally regardless of whether they committed the act, or knowingly allowed it to go unpunished.
The elderly people of Australia are clearly undervalued across the entire spectrum of society, including the justice system.
‘Extenuating circumstances’ is a phrase commonly heard within the judicial system to describe reasoning that can negate the amount of guilt that a person is responsible for. This reasoning takes both their life and personal situation into account when assessing the crime.
Surely then, the same premise could be used to take the situations of the victim of crimes into account, and upgrade the severity of punishment for crimes involving the elderly and vulnerable. Part of this could be criminalising a failure to report.
Improving the safety and wellbeing of Australia’s elderly will require change on a number of fronts, but the first and most crucial should be having laws that protect them that acknowledge crimes committed against the elderly and vulnerable are more severe than normal crime.
It was once said that ‘a society should be judged by the way in which they treat their most vulnerable,’ if this is the case, let’s hope whoever is judging us, is just as lenient as the judges currently sentencing people who prey upon our oldest and most vulnerable.