Noleen Hausler faced legal action simply for trying to protect her father.
Suspicious about bruises on her 89-year-old father’s body and sure that her complaints weren’t being heard, Noleen Hausler took matters into her own hands.
Bedridden, unable to talk and suffering from end-stage dementia, Noleen’s father Clarence is at the mercy of those who care for him. Speaking to ABC’s 7.30, Ms Hausler was suspicious about the actions of one particular member of staff. "I thought long and hard about how I could actually get the evidence and the only way I could do that was to put in a video camera and film what was going on," she said.
Placing a small hidden camera in her father’s room at the aged care facility was the only way she could think of to protect her father. Within just two days, she witnessed her father’s carer, Corey Lyle Lucas, undertake shocking acts of abuse, including force-feeding Mr Hausler, sneeze on him, hold his arms down and what looks like attempted suffocation with a napkin.
Unsure of what to do, Ms Hausler chose to take the recording to the local police station as she realised the seriousness of the allegations.
The recording of the abuse led to an aggravated assault conviction for Lucas. However, the aged care facility did not terminate Lucas’ employment, he resigned.
What is perhaps even more surprising is that Ms Hausler herself almost ended up in trouble with the law. When shown the recordings of the abuse by the police, management at the care facility’s response was not to issue an apology or offer any empathy, but to forbid any further recordings by sending a cease and desist letter.
"[Mitcham Residential Care] said that I had breached [the] Privacy Act, the Aged Care Act and Video Surveillance Act," Ms Hausler said. "I was prepared to go to jail for whatever I did and if I'd breached whatever [Mitcham Residential Care] said I'd breached, I would be responsible for all that."
Adair Donaldson, lawyer for the Hauslers’ said they were fortunate that the recordings were admissible as they led to Lucas’ conviction, but as to whether or not what Ms Hausler did was legal, he thought, “the jury is out on that”.
This particular case has added weight to the call for cameras in all aged care facilities. Caroline Barkla, from Aged Rights Advocacy Service Inc (ARAS) said that there was a need to understand that the percentage of residents in aged care with dementia is likely to increase and this should drive the needs for better processes. "We need to ensure that there [are] transparent processes in place to ensure all older people in residential care feel safe."
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Thankfully, tales such as Ms Hausler’s are few and far between, but surely the least that can be expected when placing a loved one in aged care is that they are treated with dignity and respect?
Proving abuse or ill treatment of a family member in aged care is difficult, especially as it’s often tricky to know whether or not tales of abuse relayed by the person in care are true. I remember being slightly taken aback when my grandfather told me that his home-care assistant dragged him out of bed by his feet. Thankfully, this was merely a concoction of his over-active imagination, but you can easily understand how it could spark a panic.
But Mr Hausler wasn’t able to relay his concerns, making him all the more vulnerable and putting the onus on his daughter to try and ascertain what or who was causing her father’s bruises and why his demeanour changed.
By placing cameras in his room to enable her to get to the bottom of what was going on, Ms Hausler was deemed to have breached the Privacy Act, the Aged Care Act and the Video Surveillance Act – what a lot of nonsense! While I understand the rights of someone to go to work and not be filmed without their knowledge, the safety and dignity of a man unable to care for himself must be paramount. Is it asking too much that we expect those we trust with the care of our loved ones to do so respectfully?
Imagine if this had happened at a childcare centre. The outrage would have been expressed throughout the country and the repercussions would have been severe and far-reaching. But when it is an elderly person, who is perhaps deemed by society to have lived the best years of their lives, it doesn't even make the national news. Instead it’s confined to a report on the ABC’s 7.30 programme, the ratings of which are listed as 674,000 nationwide.
Ms Hausler should be commended for trusting her instincts and going to any lengths to ensure her father’s safety and dignity, which, in reality, should never have been put at risk.
What do you think? Do you think aged care facilities should have cameras? Do you think elderly people are treated with less importance than children? Do stories such as this make you fear entering an aged care facility?