It can be hard to know what to say, or who to talk to, if you notice something isn’t right for you or a loved one in residential aged care.
You might have concerns about personal or medical care, being adequately consulted about changes to care, or be concerned about charges on the latest bill. You could also be concerned about theft, neglect or abuse.
Here’s how you can raise issues with the relevant person or authority to improve care and support for you or your loved one.
You can complain about any aspect of care or service. For instance, if medical care, day-to-day support or financial matters do not meet your needs or expectations, you can complain.
It is best to act as soon as you notice something isn’t right. This may prevent things from escalating. Good communication helps get better results.
Make written notes about what happened, including times and dates, and take photos. Try to focus on facts and events. You can also keep a record of who was involved and their role.
Keep track of how the provider responded or steps taken to resolve the issue. Write notes of conversations and keep copies of emails.
Who do I complain to?
Potential criminal matters
If you have concerns about immediate, serious harm of a criminal nature, then you should contact the police and your provider immediately. These types of serious incidents include unreasonable use of force or other serious abuse or neglect, unlawful sexual contact, stealing or unexpected death.
The provider may have already contacted you about this. They are required to report such serious incidents to both the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission within 24 hours, and to the police.
For other matters, talk to the care staff involved. Try to find out more detail about what happened and why things went wrong. Think about what you expect in the situation.
Then talk to the most senior person in charge, to see if they can make changes so things don’t go wrong in the future. This person may be called the nursing unit manager, care manager or care director.
Providers must acknowledge and investigate your complaint, tell you their findings and actions taken, and follow up to see if you are satisfied.
If you would like support to talk to the provider, the Older Persons Advocacy Network can help. This free service provides independent and confidential support to help find solutions with the aged-care provider. The network can also help you lodge a formal complaint.
How to I lodge a formal complaint?
If you are not satisfied with the way your provider responded, you can lodge a complaint with the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission.
Be prepared to submit the facts and events, plus emails and correspondence, you have already collected. Think about what you want to happen to resolve the complaint.
Each complaint is handled individually and prioritised depending on the risks to you or your loved one. The commission will start its processes within one business day when complaints are urgent. The resolution process took an average 40 days in 2020–21.
You can complain confidentially or anonymously if you feel safer. But the commission may not be able to investigate fully if it’s anonymous. Also, there are limits to what the commission can do. It cannot ask providers to terminate someone’s employment, or provide direct clinical advice about treatment.
Sometimes the commission has issued a ‘non-compliance’ notice to the provider (for a failure to meet quality standards), and action may again be limited. So it is a good idea to check the non-compliance register beforehand to see if your provider is listed.
What do others complain about?
From October to December 2021, about a third of Australian nursing homes had a complaint made to the commission against them. Some had more than one complaint. More than half of these complaints were lodged by family, friends or other consumers.
The top reasons for complaints were about:
adequacy of staffing
medication administration or management
infectious diseases or infection control
personal and oral hygiene
how falls are prevented and managed
consultation or communication with representatives and/or family members.
What if I’m still not happy?
If you’re not happy when you receive the commission’s outcome, you can request a review with 42 days.
You can also request the Commonwealth Ombudsman to review the complaint if you’re not satisfied with the commission’s decision or the way the commission handled your complaint.
Remember, you have a right to complain
The aged care royal commission spotlighted the neglect and substandard care that can occur in nursing homes. Despite attempts to lift the standard of aged care, we know residents and carers still have concerns.
Residents, and their representatives or families, have a legal right to speak up and complain, free from reprisal or negative consequences. This right is also reflected in the Charter of Aged Care Rights, which providers are legally required to discuss with you and help you understand.
Moving to another facility
If you have exhausted all avenues of complaint or feel conditions have not improved, you may decide to move to another provider or facility, if available. This option may not be possible in rural areas.
This is a difficult decision. It takes time, as well as financial and emotional resources. Starting again with a new provider can also be disruptive for everyone, but sometimes it may be the right choice.
Jacqueline Wesson, Senior Lecturer (Teaching and Research), Discipline of Occupational Therapy, School of Health Sciences, Faculty of Medicine and Health, University of Sydney and Lee-Fay Low, Professor in Ageing and Health, University of Sydney
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