Distraught families of aged care residents have shared hidden footage taken inside the nursing homes where their relatives lived out their final years, in a desperate plea for urgent changes to the industry.
Just days after PM Scott Morrison confirmed a royal commission into the aged care sector, the ABC’s Four Corners show aired a series of emotional interviews with family members of residents who have either died or suffered in an aged care facility – with footage showing them crying for help and breaking down in tears in desperation.
Joining them on the show were several former workers who chose to speak out about the ‘reality’ behind closed doors, claiming a severe lack of under-qualified staff and budgeting on things such as incontinence pads has meant many residents aren’t receiving the care they deserve.
In fact, some of the former workers even claimed staff are now falsifying documents to make out residents are more disabled than they actually are, in order to get hold of more government funding in order to properly care for residents.
Holocaust survivor Neda Borenstein spent 10 years in a local nursing home. Her concerned son Michael eventually put a hidden camera in her room after she complained to him about her treatment.
“She was a very strong woman. Even when she had MS she worked full-time throughout most of her adult life,” Michael explained of his mum.
However, the shocking footage captured from her nursing home room showed her pleading for help as she was allegedly left hours in her own waste with a lack of attention from over-worked nurses.
“Of course, when she woke up in the morning, she would be wet, and often soiled. And so, you can imagine lying in bed wouldn’t be very pleasant,” her son claimed.
At one point, the footage showed Neda shouting “help” repeatedly, before banging her cup down to try and get attention. However, a nurse was heard telling her to quieten down before leaving again.
When nurses eventually attended to her, she didn’t raise the issue again, which Michael admitted was hard to watch.
“I guess what was heartbreaking, was that while they’re in the room, she didn’t have the wherewithal to stand up to them anymore. She was broken,” he said. “She could do it while they weren’t in the room. But while they were in the room she couldn’t force it through.”
Neda Borenstein died 16 months later aged 78, and responding to her devastated family’s claims of neglect, the nursing home insisted they weren’t notified of any issues and said they had “appropriate levels of staffing”.
Elsewhere, World War II veteran Catherine Logan was filmed by her granddaughter Dayna Vereguth after she moved to a Sydney home in March 2016.
Dayna was blind and partially deaf, and was seen breaking down in tears to her granddaughter in upsetting footage, complaining that she had been left with no contact with staff. In fact, on one occasion, Dayna herself had to empty a full commode left next to her – all on camera.
“Within three weeks, she was no longer the person that she had been” Dayna told the show. “Nan would never want to complain about things and as much as when I was there I would verbally bring up things with the staff, no resolution was ever evident. And so I started filming it.”
She added: “She wasn’t able to see and so in her world, it was black. And she couldn’t hear and she could smell that there was faeces next to her and she knew she had to press a button, of which she was scared to do, because she didn’t know the response that she would get from the staff member that would come.”
A nurse from a different home, Katrina Legzdins, admitted on the show that it was a wide issue, saying: “Some people get really depressed and you have a resident saying, ‘Can you give me a pill to kill me?’ They just want to die and you don’t have five minutes to spend sitting there with them.”
Catherine claimed to her granddaughter that some nurses would simply wipe her face instead of giving her a full shower, and it seems it’s not just her who’s had similar treatment.
Another personal carer, Rebecca De Haan, explained of the wider industry: “When staff are under pressure they might not shower residents, they might just wash them or they might not even wash them, sometimes they might just change the clothes, spray them with deodorant and then just write that they’ve had a shower.”
Around a year after she moved in to the home, Catherine sadly died from a stroke. Her nursing home insisted none of the health professionals who visited her raised concerns about her welfare. It added to the show that it did its best to address the family’s concerns and apologised.
Elsewhere, another resident in a different home – Pamela Passlow – appeared in floods of tears on camera after her family claim she was given anti-psychotic drugs which they weren’t informed about – before watching her behaviour dramatically fluctuate between happiness and distress.
Pamela ended up in a mental health ward twice. Hospital notes later said the mix of sedatives and anti-psychotics were a “significant issue” and were “likely exacerbating agitation and distress”. The home where she was living later admitted a mistake was made with Risperidone and said staff were counselled and policies changed.
She has since returned home and her family have insisted she’s doing better and no longer on the drugs.
Personal Care Assistant Melanie Whiteley slammed the treatment seen right across the industry, saying on camera: “These are people, they’re not a product on a shelf, they’re human beings. There is more effort put into exporting animals at the moment than there is in fixing a human being left sitting in their room all day in an aged care facility that they’ve paid upwards of $300,000 to sit in for the day.”
Meanwhile, fighting back tears, retired diversional therapist Maggie Bain added: They’re our elders for goodness sake. We should respect them. We should care for them and we should make sure that they have a ice and it just doesn’t happen.
Sean Rooney, CEO of Leading Age Services Australia, insisted there was no need for staff-to-resident ratios, when pushed by the show’s presenter for a solution. When asked by the host about claims some staff had resorted to falsifying documents in order to access more government funding, he added: “And if that was the case, that is illegal and that needs to be reported to the regulatory agency because that is not…” before insisting he’d never heard the allegation before.
He went on: “I’m disappointed that there is a feeling in the public, in the people that have responded to you that their needs aren’t being met to the level that they feel is appropriate.”