When Jane Seaholme's mother Phyllis moved into a nursing home, it was at her mum's insistence. Ms Seaholme's mother soon realised that she couldn't stomach the food. After Jane went public to media about her mum's experience in two nursing homes, she setup a petition to mandate staffing levels and skills.
This is the speech that Jane presented to the Royal Commission's Community Forum in Maidstone, Victoria, on Friday the 3rd of May. Jane has also made a detailed submission to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.
My dear mother Phyllis was in two nursing homes and neither was satisfactory.
The first home was community run and served inedible food as well as having other problems. If I hadn't taken mum food she would have starved.
When I took her concerns about the food to management they were defensive and said things like "you are the first person in forty years to complain about the food" and "don't you eat hot dogs at home?".
The committee chairman said "residents should be grateful they have somewhere nice to live".
The Government complaints department just took the word of the facility as fact and were unhelpful, and Advocacy group Elder Rights Victoria were very supportive, but had no power to make changes and commented:
... it's not in the interest of the government to find things wrong with aged care ...
After several complaints, the facility sent me a solicitor's letter threatening me with an intervention order and ten years jail. They were complete bullies. So after trying every avenue for complaints with no success, I went to the media.
Unbeknownst to me, the second home had a wandering male resident who entered my mother's room on several occasions at night. Two days before she died she wrote an official complaint about this man entering her room at 10.30pm.
I was to find a photocopy of the written complaint eight months after she died. My mother was in an unsafe environment and although the facility knew this, they did nothing to protect her. She died suddenly and I have been left with the feeling that something untoward happened, I have many unanswered question.
The night she died, mum wrote in her diary "tea time meal disgusting, I'm getting quite disappointed".
After going to the media about our experiences at the first home, many people reached out with horrendous stories of aged care and still do.
The common theme is neglect due to lack of staff and also how ineffectual the Government's Complaints, Accreditation and Advocacy systems are.
In 2012, I started a petition to mandate skilled staff to resident ratios - - - that petition is now up to 312,000 signatures - - - this is more people than there is in aged care.
Doctors, Nurses, Gerontologists, aged care workers, loved ones of people in care, people who received terrible care and concerned citizens have signed the petition. There are over 20,000 comments and it's one of the largest petitions for an Australian issue ever.
For those who want to see, there is plenty of research to say that staff ratios have a direct bearing on the quality of care. Like any service industry, if you have unskilled workers and not enough staff, you will provide poor care.
Because aged care is now a business, the main concern for many aged care providers is profit and with no staff ratios mandated it's easy for unscrupulous providers to employ less staff and serve junk food to save money.
The government need to stop giving aged care licences to unsuitable people who lack the empathy, compassion, experience and values needed to be entrusted with the care of our elderly.
Aged care is a service; it should not be a business making enormous profits at the expense of care and should be in the hands of people with service and care experience.
We need the owners of aged care to love people, respect people and want the very best for their customers.
In summary, my suggestion are:
1. Staff/resident ratios
One of the most significant factors in providing quality residential aged care is to ensure that there is sufficient skilled staff on hand to provide that care.
Staffing skills and levels have declined significantly over the years and there are currently no minimum requirements for nurse training or time available per resident per day.
2. Suitability of staff
Not everyone is suited to working with the vulnerable. We need pre-employment checks to ensure staff have the right traits or characteristics. This is essential to weed out the cruel and unkind.
3. Suitability of approved providers
The fitness of aged care providers should be thoroughly evaluated for values that are in line with a caring profession and every board should have members that meet a criteria set by the government ideally these could include a gerontologist a doctor, a nurse, aged care workers and social workers.
The assessment of approved provider's suitability was abolished in 1997. It should be brought back.
4. Need for local and empowered supports
The supports already in place failed my mother and many others miserably.
There is an urgent need for an ongoing and empowered local presence to advocate on behalf of vulnerable residents, family members and staff.
5. Room for co-operative models
I have been involved with two parent-run co-operative schools in Victoria which were successfully run. They were independent schools that received government funding, employed fully trained teachers, and were run by the parents.
Attracting approved providers with a co-operative model would be desirable and may even address workforce issues such as attracting and keeping staff.
I'd like everyone to spare a thought for the hundreds, if not thousands of residents in aged care who will be neglected today because of Australia's appalling staffing levels.
We will only find out which homes this is happening in when disgruntled people after exhausting every avenue will go to the media through desperation.