Wollongong is a seaside city, just 70 kilometers South of Sydney. Most famous for steel production over the last century ‘The Gong’ grows tough, determined people with a resolve as strong as the region’s famous export.

Yesterday WIN Stadium, best known for epic football matches and rock concerts – The Beach Boys, Cold Chisel, INXS, Chris Isaak, The Veronicas, and Missy Higgins have all played here – played host to another type of performance: The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety Public Forum.

Grievances were aired, tears were shed, and many suggestions put forward.  The Gong’s passionate community were genuinely heard. 21 locals took the lectern. There were family carers, care workers, care recipients, a Health Services Union organiser, and a General Practitioner with 20 years’ experience with many geriatric patients.

Familiar stories were told, but with a new cast of characters. Dianne, a primary carer described her work looking after her husband with dementia as “difficult, demanding, demeaning and depressing.” She is overwhelmed and suffering. “The wait for a Home Care Package is woeful. The system must be dependable, respectful and caring. Negotiating the system must be made easier.”

Mayla has been a care worker for 22 years. She is told by her employer not to get attached to residents. When they demand that she must not form an emotional bond, her heart cries, “How can I not?” Mayla opened the curtain on her daily life, providing a stark insight into the trauma she endures when residents die.

“There’s a shortage of staff. ACFI is broken”, she said. “The higher the care needs, the higher the funding means there is a perverse situation that the worse a resident gets, the greater is the funding. There’s no incentive for a Provider to encourage wellness of a resident.”

Leonie agrees. A primary carer for her mother, she would like to see the system strengthened to focus on prevention. “The attitude that these things that happen are inevitable needs to be challenged.”

In his more than 20 years as a General Practitioner, Dr. James Best has visited dozens of Residential Aged Care facilities.

Dr. Best’s permitted five minutes were filled with observations from the coalface and sound suggestions for improvement. He described the staffing issue as a  great concern.

“We need more Registered Nurses and Enrolled Nurses, and the staff needs to be better trained,” he said. “The first challenge when entering a RACF is actually trying to find a nurse.” He said that whilst the award rate of pay remains lower than at a public hospital, it will be difficult to attract nurses to the sector.

“Awards must reflect the work they do”. Many of the nurses are unfamiliar with the residents. The RNs are drowning in red tape and many of the staff are poorly trained in geriatric care. He feels there must be an expansion of geriatric training. “By and large, the staff are caring and well-intentioned, but residents are suffering from benign neglect. The staff do not have time to spend with people and people are not being listened to.”

In Australia today, the delivery of care and support has become mechanical, functional, transactional and economical.

This is at the dire expense of our ageing citizens. To me, the goal must be to reimagine aged care to become relational, emotional, and personal.

The Royal Commission is listening. In time government, providers, and communities must act. After all, these are our loved ones.

What we would hope for ourselves, should be the beacon for the care we provide today.

Next week the Commission moves back to Adelaide for hearings that will focus on aged care in the home. 

 

Except for Dr James Best, names of speakers have been changed for privacy.

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