Damning aged care audit reveals abuse and neglect of residents across Australia

Aged care residents have been left with festering wounds, abused for wanting to use the toilet, overcharged, and wrongly blocked from attending funerals due to Covid-19, a new audit has found.

The Older Persons Advocacy Network (Opan) audited 27,000 calls made by aged care residents, families and carers to aged care advocates in recent years, finding inadequate staffing was “a major factor in poor-quality aged care and inadequate access to care”.

The report includes shocking details of abuse and neglect in aged care in the past 12 months, including, in one case, staff ignoring a wound for so long that doctors deemed it “required amputation”.

The resident died before a complaint could be considered by the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission.

In another case, the family of a resident with dementia noticed blood and a “large laceration” on the resident’s elbow, which had not been properly treated after a fall.

“On removing the resident’s shirt, the family member noticed that there were also grazes and significant bruising on the resident’s back,” the report said.

The family member told staff, who said they would treat the wounds. But 10 days later the family noticed the arm appeared to be infected. It took days for staff to administer antibiotics, the report said.

“The family member informed the advocate that they were increasingly concerned about the facility’s quality of care,” the report said. “They noted that there were different staff providing care each day, and they were concerned that the staff did not know or understand the resident’s needs.”

Another aged care resident said they had been left “shaken” after being criticised for repeatedly asking their carer if they could use the toilet before their continence aid was replaced.

“As a result of the incident, the resident suffered anxiety and was still required to have the same carer attend to their support,” the report said.

The report also detailed the impact of ongoing restrictions on resident movements and visitation due to Covid, enforced contrary to government advice.

One resident was wrongly prevented from leaving their residential facility for two months because of Covid, the report said, including to attend the funeral of a close friend.

Opan also detailed a series of cases in which residents alleged they were overcharged or accumulated significant unexpected debts.

Roughly half the advocacy cases Opan was involved in during the past 12 months involved “service access issues”, the report said.

Accessing aged care services was particularly difficult in rural and regional areas, the report said.

“Advocates have been involved in numerous cases where people in rural and remote locations cannot access any aged care services or have had their regular services reduced significantly,” the report said.

Opan’s chief executive Craig Gear said the report confirmed the need for broad reform of the sector.

“The experiences of older people in this report fall far below what they, their families and the wider community would expect,” he said.

The federal government has already announced an aged care workforce taskforce, designed to address the glaring shortages in the sector. Those shortages existed before Covid, but were exacerbated by the pandemic.

Gear said the recent increase to the award wage for aged care workers was welcome, but was “unfortunately” coupled with insufficient funding across all levels of care.

“Overstretched, or under-resourced, services are a particular challenge in rural and remote locations,” he said. “In some communities, providers have ‘closed their books’ because they do not have the required staff to take on new clients.”

Gear welcomed the government’s attempts to address the workforce crisis and said he looked forward to helping devise “solutions that can have an immediate impact”.

The aged care minister, Anika Wells, said nine years of neglect had left the aged care sector in crisis.

A spokesperson said the government’s biggest priority was to boost the aged care workforce.

“Our government has already taken action to address work force issues, making a submission to the Fair Work Commission for a pay rise so our aged care workers are rewarded for the critical roles they perform,” the spokesperson said.

”We will fund the FWC decision in full with a decision expected this summer.”

The health department said the government has also implemented a series of skills and training initiatives for the aged care workforce, including fee-free support for TAFE and he aged care transition to practice program. A workforce support program was being used to attract and train 13,000 new aged care workers to home care, the department said.

“Options for increasing overseas supply of key workers, such as personal care workers, are also being considered, including through the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility Scheme,” the department said in a statemnet.

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