The royal commission has heard the care delivered to a 70-year-old woman in the final weeks of her life was “inadequate” and described by her daughter as “a disgrace”.

The commission heard the woman, who was referred to as DE during the proceedings, was struggling to breathe when her daughters came to visit her one evening.

“It sounded like there was an engine of a truck or a lawnmower engine running,” said one of the woman’s daughters, who was referred to as DI.

“It was this loud rumbling that was so disconcerting and scary I think as soon as my sister heard this we ran.”

Daughters frantically searched for help

The sisters found their mother alone, and began “frantically” searching for staff to help them.

It took them “at least” half an hour to find someone to attend to their mother, and when staff did arrive they were of little help.

They said there was “no communication” with staff who had poor English, and “seemed to be very busy and run off their feet”.

The daughters were “in a state of panic”, and called a palliative care nurse who had seen their mother. Though the nurse was not available, another nurse at Greenwich Hospital tried to help them.

“So we were kind of holding on to this phone call with this woman, because it was the only person that would speak to us. And she was wonderful. And thank God we could get hold of her, but there was only so much she could do, being not in the room and… not the person taking care of Mum on that night,” DI said.

The nursing home called the after hours doctor, who, when he finally arrived, stayed for less than one minute.

“He said, ‘This isn’t really my area of expertise, and then walked out’,” DI said.

“Evening of mum’s passing was a farce”

DE’s other daughter, DJ, said, “The whole evening of Mum’ s passing was a farce and, honestly, an absolute disgrace.

“There was not enough staff. The staff who were there did not seem to know what was going on and we were in the dark the entire time,” DJ said.

“No compassion”

A few weeks after DE died, DI and DJ made formal complaints to Bupa and the Aged Care Complaints Commission.

“After Mum’ s death my sister and I raised our concerns with Bupa Willoughby and tried to get some answers about what happened and why things went so wrong. In all of my dealings with Bupa Willoughby during this time I felt like they were trying to dismiss our concerns. I felt like they were not listening to what I had to say and did not want to admit fault,” DJ said.

“For an organisation that exists to care for people, it seemed like they had no compassion for us at all.”

Missing testimonies

In a statement to the royal commission, Maureen Berry, clinical service improvement director of Bupa Aged Care Australia, said the staff involved in DE’s case no longer worked for the organisation.

However, she had to concede that four registered nurses who cared for DE did remain working for the company. Ms Berry’s error meant these nurses were not asked to provide evidence to the commission.

Bupa’s care was “appropriate”, says director

Ms Berry told the royal commission the clinical care DE received was “appropriate”, although she admitted that, “There are times when care provision wasn’t as prompt as it could have been or perhaps explained as well as it could have been or documented as well as it could have been.”

Ms Berry also agreed that DE’s nutrition and hydration needs were not adequately looked after, that she was not properly supervised at meal times, and that the absence of her hearing aids and glasses would have made it difficult for her to communicate.

Ms Berry agreed that there was poor communication between Bupa and DE’s family and that DE’s pain was not adequately assessed.

“Quality of care was inadequate”: Complaints Commission

DI and DJ took their complaint to the Aged Care Complaints Commission, and an investigation was carried out.

The Commission’s report on the incident said, “The quality of care delivered to DE at the care home was inadequate, primarily due to deficiencies in clinical leadership and supervision.”

Inconsistencies between care plans and assessments were identified, such as for pressure area care and the presence of an air mattress.

“Bupa has identified the potential risk to care delivery from a lack of clinical leadership and supervision when both the general manager and regional director have no clinical background and we are addressing this issue at an organisational level,” Bupa responded.

Image: Witness DI during the royal commission hearings.

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