Residents subjected to the alleged events which occurred this time in a New South Wales nursing home, which included the horrors of having resident's genitalia photographed for some sick game; depriving a dying man of food; and taunting a dementia resident.

Sadly, none of these events satisfied the official government requirements of the "compulsory reporting" regime that was introduced in 2007 to purportedly 'protect' residents in aged care. Although in this case the provider optionally contacted the department, there was no requirement to do so.

'Compulsory reporting' laws were introduced in 2007, as a result of alleged sexual assaults in a Victorian nursing home.

All Australian Government subsidised aged care homes must report incidents or allegations of sexual assault or serious physical assault. A 'reportable assault' is defined in legislation and means unlawful sexual contact or unreasonable use of force that is inflicted on a person receiving residential aged care. Under these arrangements, aged care providers are required to:

  • Report to the police and to the Department within 24 hours of incidents involving alleged or suspected reportable assaults;
  • Take reasonable measures to ensure staff members report any suspicions or allegations of Reportable assaults to the provider;
  • Take steps to protect the security of residents in the facility;
  • Take reasonable steps to protect the identity of any pe rson who lodges a report; and
  • Keep consolidated records of all incidents involving allegations or suspicions of reportable assaults.

The 'compulsory' reporting requirement of alleged or suspected assaults instances do not apply if:

  • an assault by a resident with a previously assessed cognitive or mental impairment, where the service provider has reviewed arrangements for the management of the individual’s behaviour to minimise the incidence of assaults by that resident, and
  • an assault that has been previously reported to the police and department.

... There is no duty of care to protect residents from the actions of other residents with cognitive impairment who may put others at risk. The government talks about ‘behavioural management’. Too often the latter fails and we note the refusal of the Government to commit to safe staff/resident ratios. As well, there has been no commitment to fund dementia units to separate residents who put other frail residents at risk - although there have been several cases where serious injury to frail people due to resident assault (perhaps even resulting in death) have occurred ...

Source: pdfAged Care Crisis submission412.61 KB - Aged Care Amendment (Security and Protection) Bill 2007

Narrow definition

Prior to the introduction of the 'compulsory reporting' regime, concerns at the time pointed to the limits of the proposed Bill in addressing all potential forms of abuse, which included concerns around poor nutrition, hydration, hygiene, verbal and emotional abuse or financial fraud.

The limitations in the scope of reporting requirements fails to address the most common forms of abuse which include neglect and financial abuse. 

The Government's inability to recognise elder abuse for what it is, and to so narrowly define the requirements, has resulted in a failure in protecting older people in care. It is also at odds with the World Health Organisation and the government's promotion of (annual) World Elder Abuse day.

What type of message does this send out? That it's not elder abuse when frail and older seniors are taunted, deprived, robbed, or used in some mindless game?

Do we really know how many cases like this are occuring across Australia - inside or outside nursing homes? How many other cases in residential aged care are "micro-managed" to avoid public scrutiny, or just swept under the carpet? We don't collect the information, so therefore we just don't know.

Imagine if we didn't know the prevalence of heart attacks, diabetes, car accidents, or similar?

Information should be readily available so that researchers can document important issues for analysis and trends, as well as public scrutiny to highlight the issue of elder abuse.

Age and frailty should not be a reason to exclude seniors from at the very least the collection of this important information.

Is it a case of we simply don't know, don't care, or both?