‘Rather be dead’: Aged care resident on heartbreaking reality of life in lockdown

Aug 11, 2020
Merle Mitchell, from Glen Waverley, gave evidence to the Aged Care Royal Commission on Monday. Source: ACRC.

Life in lockdown is no easy feat, but it’s particularly difficult for older Australians who may find themselves feeling more isolated than ever. And these feelings may be particularly rife among those in aged care facilities who are no longer able to spend time with their loved ones.,

One aged care resident opened up on the heartbreaking reality of life in lockdown this week, telling the Aged Care Royal Commission that, every day she wakes up in lockdown, she feels disappointed to still be alive. This is despite the fact that no one – staff or resident – has tested positive for Covid-19.

The 85-year-old has lived in an aged care facility in the Glen Waverley area of Melbourne since 2016. Appearing via video link, Merle Mitchell said many of her fellow residents would “rather be dead” given current circumstances amid the ongoing pandemic. However she did stress that her comments do not mean she is not being cared for.

“I know I’m here until I die so every morning when I wake up I think, ‘damn I’ve woken up’,” she told the royal commission on Monday. “But I’m here ’til I die, so I’ve got to make the best of it, and that’s what I try to do.

“It’s not to say I’m not being cared for but I am sure if you really asked most people here they would all say they would rather be dead, rather than be living here, if they’re honest that is”.

Ms Mitchell was called as a witness on Monday as the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality examined the sector’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, in order to gain an understanding of what can be learned from this experience for responding to future pandemics, infectious disease outbreaks or other emergencies.

She revealed that she is unable to leave her room, due to increased ‘lockdown’ restrictions currently in place, except to attend four physiotherapy appointments each week. Merle added: “From the time I wake up to the time I go to sleep, I’m sitting in my own room, in my one chair.” Merle added that, while she does have a window, her only view is of a brick wall.

The commission also asked Ms Mitchell about her last physical contact with her daughter – who is no longer able to visit – which she says took place through a window that was opened by two inches a few weeks ago, in celebration of her birthday. Asked if that was enough, she responded: “No, I’m a people person, I like to see people. But I understand why.”

Former Labor leader Bill Shorten described Merle’s comments as “heartbreaking”. He told the Today show this morning: “I suppose what really upsets me about what I just saw with Merle and for thousands of other parents who have their loved ones in there is, you know, we knew this was coming. In March we got the warning and yet there was no plan again when the second spike.

“It’s almost like because they’re old and out of sight we can forget about them. The reality is unlike some of the problems of COVID-19 this nation has known that aged care has been very poorly run for a very long time. We have been on notice.”

Do you have any loved ones in aged care?

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