‘Nothing has changed in 40 years’: Why gran refuses to go into aged care

Starts at 60 reader Val Hathaway spoke to us about her own experiences. Source: Getty.

It has been more than four decades since Val Hathaway first visited her mother in a geriatric hospital in the early 1970s, but the Sydney grandmother said the experience of seeing how her late mother was treated has significantly impacted her own feelings about growing older and entering the aged care sector.

After suffering a stroke at the age of 60, Val’s mother Amanda was admitted to Lidcombe Hospital in New South Wales – which no longer exists – for treatment, but while on the ward Val claims that her mother was “slapped right across the face” by a member of the nursing staff.

The great grandmother recalled to Starts at 60 the anger she felt when her mother told her about the alleged incident.

“She was upset [when she told me] and you could see she was frightened,” Val, 72, said. “We said ‘you tell us if she’s here mum’. She wasn’t but she was coming in that afternoon so I thought right we’re going to wait. In she came and mum said that’s her and started to get upset.

“My sister and I walked over to her, I leant over and told her we will be making an official complaint on her style of nursing. We said if you ever lay a hand on our mother again or any other patient on this ward we’ll be back.

“She didn’t open her mouth, she never said a word. I think she was shocked.”

Val, who is also grandmother to 12 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren, claims she reported the incident to the ward sister and lodged an official complaint, which led to a fruitless meeting with the hospital superintendent. She said she was joined by her dad and sister along with a number of hospital staff including a social worker.

“The nurse herself wasn’t at the meeting,” She added: “I did the majority of the speaking because I was the one who made the complaint, I was the one who was at the hospital who mum spoke to.”

Val said that during the meeting the superintendent said “nothing about the nurse that hit mum”, but did suggest that her mother should be moved to another facility, to which she replied: “We’re not taking mum to any nursing home, she’s coming home with us.”

Amanda passed away at the age of 70. She is pictured here at home in 1984. Source: Supplied.
Amanda passed away at the age of 70. She is pictured here at home in 1984. Source: Supplied.

Within one week Val and her father Fred had taken Amanda back home, where the doting husband cared for her for a further 10 years until, in 1984, she suffered a second stroke and was admitted again to Lidcombe. Sadly though, Val passed away shortly after at the age of 70.

With the recent launch of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, Val said that she believes “zilch has changed” and remains adamant that she will live out her years either in her own home or with family.

“I’ve told all my children that if I end up with a terminal illness, I am not going into any nursing home,” she said. “I am not going into one of those facilities, there is no way in the world.”

Starts at 60 contacted NSW Health about the allegations and a spokesperson said there are no records of the alleged incident or of Val’s complaint and that, because management of the hospital changed several times over the years, it is unclear if a report on the alleged incident was ever made.

“NSW Health takes the abuse of the elderly very seriously and has developed policies to identify and respond to abuse in all forms,” the spokesperson said. “The NSW Health Policy Directive on identifying and responding to older people has been developed to raise awareness of abuse of older people across the health system and outline the role of NSW Health organisations in supporting staff to identify and respond to abuse of older people.”

They added all government health workers have a responsibility to identify any abuse of older people and then to respond appropriately, in light of the recently announced royal commission which will be inquiring into cases of abuse of the elderly.

Do you have any personal experience with aged care facilities or geriatric hospitals? Were your experiences positive or negative?

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