The Royal Commission heard of the obstacles Ruth Harris faced when she tried to find information about her mother’s home care package through My Aged Care.

Ruth, a 65-year-old retired teacher who cares for her mother, Joyce Harris, spoke about her frustrations dealing with the My Aged Care system.

Ruth first contacted My Aged Care when Joyce turned 90 and began having dizzy spells.

My Aged Care said Joyce had to have an ACAT assessment, which she did. She was first assessed for a level 3 package.

Condition deteriorated waiting for package to come through

For six months, the family heard nothing of the package, and then Joyce’s health began to deteriorate further.

Ruth contacted My Aged Care to enquire about the package’s progress.

She was told, “There’s a three to six month wait for level 2 and 12 months for anything above.”

Ruth told My Aged Care she’d already been waiting for six months, but was told she just had to keep waiting.

The family was able to access some interim help through Commonwealth interim funding, which they did, but it did not provide the assistance Joyce needed.

My Aged Care unable to help

Ruth then began to ring My Aged Care once a month, and each time received the same answer – it’s a three to six month wait for level two and a 12 month wait for anything higher.

Ruth began to ask to speak to the supervisor, who would also give the standard answer.

Ruth made two complaints but even they provided her with the scripted response.

Ruth said she felt My Aged Care was “basically a call centre, not necessarily people who knew the needs of people in the aged care bracket”.

Ruth said she “felt quite strongly” when she spoke to people at My Aged Care, and found the tone of their correspondence condescending.

“When I would speak to the operators on the phone, I would say, ‘Do you realise these people are in your 90s and you’re asking them to wait 12 months-plus for a package?’ Now that’s a long time when you are already very elderly.

“I think I said to them, ‘You’re waiting for them to die’,” Ruth said.

The decision was to move into residential aged care

In mid-December 2018, Joyce moved into residential aged care.

She had been waiting for her home care package to come through for 13 months.

When Ruth rang My Aged Care in January to let them know of her mother’s move, the operator told her the package had come through and a letter had been sent to her on 11 December informing her.

Ruth and Joyce never received the letter.

Ruther was disappointed that such an important piece of information was only communicated by mail, and that there had been no follow up.

“It’s such an important piece of information for someone that I couldn’t believe that the only way that you’ve chosen to inform us of that is to use… snail mail,” Ruth said.

“That there wasn’t a follow-up phone call,” she said, even though she had been registered for some time as someone who could speak on her mother’s behalf.

The regret of not being able to stay at home

Though Joyce is happy in residential aged care, Ruth regrets she couldn’t spend longer at home.

“My one regret is I don’t feel we ever got to try out the level 3 package to see how that would have gone, and maybe she could have stayed a bit longer at home,” Ruth said.

“No one was listening” at My Aged Care

Ruth said she wanted to share her story to avoid others experiencing similar problems.

“There are lots of other people who don’t have an advocate for them,” Ruth said.

“How [do] people, elderly people, manage if they don’t have family support or someone who is willing to do the paperwork for them, because it’s just horrendous.”

Navigating the system “is very difficult”.

“I did feel when I phoned My Aged Care that no one was listening,” Ruth said.

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