‘I witnessed some of the worst abuse imaginable while working in aged care’

Dec 08, 2018
It's going to take more than a royal commission into aged care, says Jacqui. Source: Getty

The last 12 months have been great for raising the voice of the over-60s community at Starts at 60, something we feel strongly about doing. During the next few weeks we are celebrating the blogs that resonated with readers the most throughout the year. This blog is one of our Top 50 blogs for 2018.

I had a great example of life in care and how bad it could be when I came to Australia in 1987. I worked in a Jewish day care facility in Melbourne, and the elderly clients were respected and cared for well, given good meals and entertained. I loved my job. I was given great ‘on job’ training and attended excellent workshops on dementia and other aspects of aged care. Then, due to travel times that exceeded two hours for me, sadly I had to leave.

My next position was an activities leader in another Melbourne nursing home. It was a very unsuitable and badly renovated old house. The adaptions left much to be desired and meant cramped housing for the unfortunate residents. Although I was employed to run activities, I was often called in to do a nursing shift, which involved showering residents. I did it willingly enough and had been trained in England at a Day Hospital (my training had been for rehab, as an occupational therapy assistant), but I had not done a personal care course at that time.

On one of those early shifts I saw the worst example of abuse I had ever encountered; a ‘care assistant’ (untrained) took a dislike to a resident and was hosing him with cold water. The poor man was naked and crying on the tiled floor. People like this woman were employed then, they had no skills no empathy and no right to be there. At great risk to my safety, I stopped her. She was a big woman with an evil temper, but I threatened that if I ever saw her do it again I would make her actions public.

I was doing work I enjoyed. There were some really great trips out with the residents, music and board games, special memory quizzes, and art, so I stayed on. I was very fond of the people we cared for too.

Then a new owner was appointed, she cut corners from the start. Soon we were struggling to keep the residents dry and clean, pads were not changed often; as she reduced the number she bought. Then she forced everyone to leave their designated jobs and work in the kitchen (saving money), we already took round teas and drinks anyway. I was there for the residents – not to wash dishes, so I left, and the owner was not there for much longer. This was back in the early 1990s, but I’ve no doubt there are more unscrupulous owners who care more about the dollar than their clients’ welfare out there. I feel they think of a nursing home as an easy way to a fortune.

Sometimes the issue is the bullying of staff, or those in their care, other times staff shortages are the problem; not enough nurses or care staff on duty. As I recall, on one occasion I tried to do 12 showers before lunchtime… It was is crazy! People need time, and they deserve the full attention of their care staff. We used to try and make sure the residents in our care had cream on dry skin, makeup if they wanted it, and their hair done properly. The men needed a proper shave and clothing chosen that made them look good. These things matter, and our elderly deserve that respect.

There was another occasion of ‘bad practice’ when I was left to work on my own after only six weeks of training in a new position. I was on night shift for the first time, the other two nurses (perhaps wanting to ‘test’ me) swanned off to another part of the hospital for a two-hour break. I was left with about 28 clients, to toilet, calm when anxious, put back to bed numerous times and to keep safe. I coped until one mentally disturbed man decided to fling himself at a wall. I dealt with the resulting wound and blood, but went off-duty next morning shaken, distressed and with blood stains all over my uniform. I came back for another night of duty, but made sure it was the last. Staff need proper care too.

I suppose there will always be bad apples in any industry, but we need to be vigilant. Money needs to be spent properly on the residents and staff, not on another report into the industry. Paperwork already clogs the workplace taking good nurses away to deal with it. The aged care industry needs sufficient well-trained staff, comfortable rooms, and good food. I don’t think it’s a lot to ask.

While I agree with the call for a royal commission, I have reservations about any long inquiry. If the royal commission is speedily executed, and gets results i.e., more staff, better training, high standard facilities, that would be wonderful! With just one extra nurse sometimes the work and the care levels are so much better.

What are your thoughts on the royal commission into aged care announced by the government earlier this year?

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