As news of the Royal Commission inquiry into Australian aged care standards hit the headlines this week, families of patients, advocacy boards and employees are hopeful they’ll see an industry-wide overhaul.
If you’re looking for a trusted facility for your loved one, try not to be deterred by all of the negative publicity around at the moment.
“There are nearly 3000 aged care homes in Australia and a lot of them provide really good care,” says Pat Joyce, Manager of Advocacy at Seniors Rights Service.
“There are a lot of people who visit aged care homes like staff, visitors, family and medical practitioners who all have the power to speak up if they see something that isn’t right.”
So, how do we know we are getting the very best care for the people we love the most?
There are so many things to consider when weighing up an aged care facility, such as proximity to family and cost, in addition to how well you think they will meet the needs of your loved one.
“Now you’re allowed to go into an aged care facility at any time between nine-to-five and request a look without an appointment,” says Pat.
She believes there should be a welcome vibe and an open-door policy at the facility you’re considering.
“You need to see it, smell it, observe the staff and how they interact with a couple of residents and check if the place looks clean and tidy."
If the staff are able to accommodate you, ask a manager or RN questions about how the facility is run, including the ratio of staff to patients, whether it is a not-for-profit facility, if nurses are employed on site and their levels of qualification, as well as who is giving out medication and the all-important food options.
There is no exact benchmark for patient-to-staff ratio, but the Aged Care Act (1997) states there should be enough skilled staff to look after the needs of every patient.
“We need quality care. You don’t want your family member to be sat in a room for four hours with no one coming near you. This is for safety as well as their comfort, emotional and physical needs,” says Pat.
When looking for a facility this can be hard to get a read on, but trust your instincts – and don’t be afraid to express your feelings if you are unsatisfied.
If you are unhappy with the treatment or standards upheld at an aged care facility, gather evidence and take it higher.
“There’s got to be respect for everyone,” implores Pat. “There are so many daughters, sons or even community members who can raise their concerns. They can go to the management of a facility for any sort of complaint.”
Advocacy groups such as the Seniors Rights Service encourages people to get evidence and go to management with their concerns and can help people to speak up if they find the care standards to be unacceptable.
“We know not to judge when people call up with their issues. Everyone had the same rights in Australia,” says Pat.
Protecting our loved ones
Despite it being outlawed in the Aged Care Act, some patients fear the repercussions of submitting a complaint and as a result, a lot of issues go unresolved.
“We help a lot of elderly people who are terrified they will be treated differently or punished for speaking up or rocking the boat,” says Pat, "But if people don't speak up, things won't get better."
Pat suggests talking to the manager of the facility first, calling an advocacy service or if a bigger, ongoing issue, taking the matter straight to the complaints commissioner or your local member of parliament.
“We give people encouragement, send them a copy of their rights and sit with them for a meeting or write a letter on their behalf. We try to settle and resolve issues," she says, "It’s hard, but usually there is a solution out there."
For more information, resources and services, head to www.myagedcare.gov.au.