There have been so many negative stories involving Bupa Aged Care over the last 12 months that information regarding fresh scandals or care failings barely raises an eyebrow from the general public anymore.

Sexual assaults, violence, residents with maggots in their wounds, scabies, and staff using a resident’s credit card are only a sample of the scandalous headlines involving Bupa this year, along with the 13 homes that have been sanctioned.

The Australian aged care sector is currently under the spotlight for all the wrong reasons, and with 45 of their 72 nursing homes failing to meet all of the health and safety standards this year, many wonder what on earth would have to happen in order for Bupa to have their accreditation status revoked?

Over the years, a number of smaller providers have been forced to shut down operations due to consistently failing to meet standards, including ARK Health Care who were forced to sell in 2018 after failing to meet standards in their NSW based homes.

Bupa on the other hand currently has four sanctions in NSW, one in South Australia, and one in Victoria as of today, as well as eight current notices of non-compliance. 

Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck recently described Bupa’s “persistent failure” to meet standards as “simply unacceptable,” declaring that he and the Department of Health were “closely monitoring” Bupa’s performance.

Yet despite this tough talk, the two months following the Minister’s statements were littered with even more stories of Bupa’s failings. 

Stories from the royal commission’s recent trip to Hobart showcased Bupa’s shrewd staff cutting policies, while the Bupa Seaforth facility recently failed to gain accreditation yet again after being unable to meet minimum standards for over a year.

With all of this added scrutiny, you would think that one year would be more than enough time to meet the minimum standard of care for older people, but the latest report that says Bupa Seaforth failed 21 of 50 requirements for accreditation proves that this is not the case.

It’s hard to imagine any other business or institution being given the type of leniency that the Department of Health and other industry figures are willing to afford Bupa.

If Bupa sold cars, there would be a nationwide recall. If Bupa sold produce, it would be pulled from the shelves. But somehow, Bupa retains their ability to rake in millions of dollars every year while constantly failing to meet the bare minimum standards of care. 

Sanctions are clearly not a deterrent that garners any real respect for this country’s most notorious healthcare provider, and HelloCare sat down with an expert on the aged care accreditation process to find out why Bupa can’t seem to turn things around.

Dr. Rodney Jilek worked in a number of corporate and advisory roles within the aged care industry and was actually a Clinical Advisor for the Aged Care Quality & Compliance Division of the Department of Health and Ageing.

These days, Dr. Jilek is the Principal Advisor at Aged Care Consulting and Advisory Services, where he provides advice and works alongside aged care providers who have failed aged care accreditation.

Dr. Jilek shared his thoughts on the ongoing compliance issues that Bupa face, and the reasoning behind the lack of meaningful punishments for repeated failures. 

“The Department of Health will never shut Bupa down because they simply don’t want to be tasked with finding homes over 6,000 people, they are simply too big to fail at this point,” said Dr Jilek.

“The sad thing is, from what I hear in the sector some of the Bupa homes are really good and actually have great management and staff, but the problems in some homes are so appalling and frequent  that it tarnishes everyone.”

Homes that are sanctioned are often made to appoint advisors and administrators to oversee workplace processes and make recommendations. 

Previously, advisors would supply the Department of Health with information regarding the current state of a sanctioned facility, but according to Dr. Jilek, this does not appear to be the case anymore. 

“Advisors are now effectively an employee of the provider they are advising, which means that they don’t have the power to do anything,” said Dr.Jilek.

“Providers can actually terminate advisors that provide the Department less than flattering information because this is no longer seen as their role. They have basically become puppets for the system. The providers don’t always want to listen to the truth and neither do the regulatory bodies. 

“So advisors now basically do what the providers want them to do, and that’s not being an advisor, that’s being advised – and that’s certainly not a good thing for aged care residents,” said Dr. Jilek.

Bupa’s Seaforth home that has remained under sanction for over a year currently has an administrator and a nurse advisor that were appointed while under sanction, as well as further support from an outside consultant.

“I am aware of at least three advisors who have terminated their contracts from sanctioned Bupa homes allegedly because of a perceived lack of cooperation and where they were no longer providing independent information to the Department.

“We cannot have a situation where a sanctioned provider is able to sanitize the reports going to the Department on their own performance of non-compliance rectification.

“As it is, the Department does all its checking over the telephone and rarely visits a sanctioned site. Years ago they used to do daily visits,” said Dr Jilek.

Having sanctioned providers report on themselves does not sound the most advisable plan for aged care improvement, but it may help to explain Bupa’s continued failures. 

“Anyone in the role of a nurse advisor under a sanction situation must be there to ensure the delivery of safe, competent care and to advocate for the residents in care.

“To pervert this role into some kind of meaningless tick box without any power to enforce change just so a non-compliant provider and a bureaucrat can be satisfied with a process is just madness. They may as well have no sanctions at all,” said Dr. Jilek.

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