The end of a person’s life should be sacred.

As the hours and minutes wind their way down towards the inevitable expiration of an individual’s life, the final moments are perhaps more precious than any of the moments that came before them.

For some, this may be a period of reflection. A chance to look back and take stock of a lifetime full of memories, and replay the things that you cherish the most, one last time in your mind.

Some of these memories may involve family members, and if you are lucky enough, some of these peoples faces may be in the room with you sharing stories, holding hands and sharing kisses as they say their final goodbyes.

There is an undeniable warmth and comfort in knowing that you are loved and cared for, and these feelings mean even more when you are facing hard times.

But unfortunately, for a number of the elderly people who have died within the confines of a residential aged care facility, these dreams are nowhere close to being realistic, and have sadly been replaced with a nightmare scenario instead.

The Start Of A Bad Dream

Living in an aged care facility can be a lonely existence for some of our less fortunate Australian elderly.

And those with little to no family, face many of their life’s most daunting moments alone or with an aged care employee by their side for a few fleeting moments.

The pressures currently being placed on staff within facilities are at an all time high, and often result in employees being unable to spend as much time catering to a residents emotional needs as they would like to.

This lack of staffing has ultimately resulted in a priority based approach to care at times depending on acuity.

As grim of a reality as it sounds, the fact of the matter is that facilities are in this business of housing you and whilst they do everything to keep you well, for some elderly when they are on the verge of death, there may not always be adequate amount of staff to sit with you until you die.

Sadly, there are a large number of elderly Australians dying completely alone in aged care facilities all around the country, and facing the most daunting thing that a person could ever encounter in their final stages of life.

HelloCare was recently contacted by a now, ex-nurse, who was who was saddened by inadequate staffing and the effect that it had on her ability to care.

She also shared the reality of those dying in facilities and why it prompted her to eventually leave working in aged care.

“One of my favourite residents was very close to death. He would constantly verbalise how scared he was at the prospect of dying and I was on shift at this point.”

“I was the only nurse rostered on, and I had to attend to another resident that had a fall and do the medication round. So I personally organised a carer to stay with this man until he eventually died. But I found out afterwards that this carer was pulled away to help other residents also in need.”

“It was at this point that I really felt I let this resident down, and I was saddened that I couldn’t give him the death he deserved,” she said.

The Problem

While aged care facilities have a number of systems in place geared towards resident health and wellbeing, there are actually very few that have any ironclad procedure in place ensuring that a resident does not die alone.

Resulting in a large proportion of lonely deaths.

Staffing ratios have been a hot topic of discussion within the aged care sector for a long period of time, and instances like this typify the frustrations from both the aged care workforce and the public at large.

If facility staffing numbers were increased or extra staff were called into a facility upon a nurse’s clinical assessment that a resident was near death, there would be very little circumstances in which a resident could die alone.

Sadly, a large number of nurses and carers are more than willing to assist in comforting a resident at this point, but many are simply not able to due to resources, and are being tasked with other important needs such delivering medications, other sick or complex needs residents.

Human contact and meaningful interaction is integral to the overall quality of an elderly person’s life, especially when they are on the verge of death.

And there should no circumstance in which a vulnerable person is made to face the final daunting moments of their life still being afflicted by the feelings of social isolation and loneliness that currently plague a large proportion of aged care residents.

Surely, in their final hours, there must come a time when facilities feel that a person’s need to die with the comfort of a familiar face or helping hand, supersedes the financial impact of adding more staff or utilising a flexible enough roster to facilitate these occasions.

Because even though not everyone will have the opportunity to be surrounded by loved ones when they die, at the very least, there should be evidence that those who were caring for you actually cared.

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