Stop the secrecy and change the culture

A resident of a nursing home dies and the family is summoned.  A doctor issues a death certificate. A priest performs last rites.

But four days later things change. A junior staff member - a nursing student- claims that there was a tragic accident and that the truth has not been told to the family or the doctor. She is sacked the next day.

The coronial hearing into this death, where it was claimed that the resident actually stumbled into a pond and drowned, occurred in July this year – two years after the accident. The coroner is not expected to bring down her findings until next year. It is reported that there were at least 35 references to a cover-up during the inquest.

This sad story is the second one to emerge in just two weeks where junior staff have had to risk, or lose, their employment in order to see justice done to the vulnerable residents within their care. The earlier report related to a registered nurse who humiliated residents in the most degrading manner.

These sad incidents reflect the fact that there is a poor culture in too many of our aged-care homes – a culture of cover-up and secrecy, a culture where staff are too frightened to speak up because of fear of retribution. They indicate a lack of ethical leadership and a disregard of the human rights of those they are meant to serve.

Something has to change. Aged-care homes have to open up all aspects of care to the public. The secrecy must end. Families must be told the truth about staffing levels, programs, meals and anything else they want to know about. They should know if there been complaints issued against the home and, if so, how were they resolved.

Many families would like to know just what proportion of the government subsidy homes receive is actually spent on care - a right to know that was taken away more than a decade ago.

A good aged-care home is one where both management and staff are proud of the important work they do. It is one that is open to, and supported by, the local community. And, it is one that, when mistakes occur (as they will at times), they are both acknowledged and rectified. Openness and connection to community is the way that behavior such as that exhibited within the above reports does not occur.

Finally, aged-care homes should be owned and run by skilled professionals with compassion – not as a means of profit and not by people who seem so able to forget that they too will become old and dependent on others one day.