COVID-19 deaths put spotlight on aged care failures

Victorian premier admits he wouldn’t put his mother into aged care.

health minister greg hunt

The royal commission into aged care tried to shine a light into the failings of privatised aged care, but it is only now people are dying from COVID-19 that the issue is being taken seriously.

With 804 COVID-19 cases connected to the aged care sector in Victoria as of Wednesday morning, nurses from public and private hospitals and medics from the Australian Defence Force were called in to cover for staff across Melbourne. As of Wednesday morning, 56 people in aged care in Victoria had died after testing positive to the virus.

On Tuesday, Victorian premier Dan Andrews shone a light on the precarious situation in many privatised aged care homes when he said he would not let his “mum be in some of those places”.

“I cannot stand here and tell you that I have confidence that staff and management across a number of private sector aged care facilities are able to provide the care that is appropriate to keep their residents safe,” Mr Andrews said.

Federal health minister Greg Hunt hit back at the claims, saying that his own father received excellent care at a private aged care home.

“The idea that our carers, that our nurses are not providing that care, I think, is a dangerous statement to make. They are wonderful human beings and I will not hear a word against them,” Mr Hunt said.

On Wednesday morning, Prime Minister Scott Morrison admitted that the aged care situation in Victoria was very distressing but tried to downplay the deaths by suggesting that many in aged care homes were already close to death.

“Many years ago, it was quite different, but these days, particularly with the in-home aged care options, more Australians are choosing to remain at home,” Mr Morrison said.

“But those who have moved into aged care facilities are often moved in at a much more advanced stage. And all of us who have had to make those decisions in relation to loved ones understood that, and so I think that attaches to it a particular sensitivity in the challenges we’re now facing.

“Where there is sustained community transmission, it is inevitable that this will find its way into aged care facilities. When it rains, everyone gets wet,” Mr Morrison said.

“And that is what we’re seeing with broad-based community transmission in Victoria. As the [Victorian premier Daniel Andrews] rightly said, if you are ill, do not go to work. That is true if you work in a meat processing plant, it is true if you work in a chemist shop, it is true if you work in a restaurant, it is true if you’re a journalist, a politician, whoever you may be, an aged care worker especially.”

The many problems in the sector were highlighted by the aged care royal commission last year, which found the system failed to meet the needs of older citizens.

The Australian Nursing and Midwife Federation (ANMF) warned as early as March about the coming risks to the sector posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ANMF said urgent action was required to increase the numbers of qualified nurses and carers working in the already understaffed sector.

ANMF assistant federal secretary Lori-Anne Sharp pointed out on 4 March that a high percentage of the workforce was casualised and needed more support.

“As we know, the aged care sector is already dangerously understaffed. A potential outbreak and consequent lockdowns in nursing homes could result in a depleted workforce, with reduced numbers of qualified staff on the ground caring for elderly residents,” Ms Sharp said at the time, in a chilling prediction of the exact situation in Victoria right now.

While these calls were largely ignored, as were Ms Sharp’s calls to ensure that all aged care facilities had enough protective personal equipment, the Fair Work Commission (FWC) also failed to take account of the dangerous aged care situation.

Back in April, unions were arguing for the commission to provide paid pandemic leave to casual workers in aged care and healthcare but the push was rejected.

Now that the situation has eventuated, the FWC this week reversed its decision, allowing paid pandemic leave to casual workers in the aged care sector from Wednesday.

In its ruling, the FWC said self-isolation was “especially critical” in aged care “because of the vulnerability of aged persons to COVID-19 fatalities”.

"Further … there is a real risk that employees who do not have access to leave entitlements might not report COVID-19 symptoms, which might require them to self-isolate, but rather seek to attend for work out of financial need," the ruling said.

"This represents a significant risk to infection control measures. These matters weigh significantly in favour of the introduction of a paid pandemic leave entitlement."

Do you think too many warnings were ignored with regard to the precarious aged care situation as the coronavirus crisis took hold? Should more be done to support aged care workers?

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    COMMENTS

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    JoJozep
    30th Jul 2020
    10:49am
    ScoMo's comments show how out of touch he is with why people enter aged care. It is not because they are close to death "anyway" A majority are aged, yes, but they will outlive me.

    They are there because they have developed disabilities through things like loss of balance which make many subject to falls and broken bones, especially if they have Osteoporosis or Osteoarthritis. When this happens, they need watching 24/7 and after a lifetime of activity, they have to adapt to use wheel frames, walkers, or wheel chairs.

    Also they may become incontinent, requiring frequent trips to the toilet. The majority are women, and as most have outlived their husbands and can't be at home any more without constant supervision. Care at home by registered nurses etc, is limited to a few hours each day and certainly not all night, when they need assistance to access the toilet 5-6 times per night.

    I find Scomo lacks compassion, because the he is either playing a delaying tactic game by ignoring the obvious (read: and saving money) or he can't be bothered visiting aged care homes and finding out what's involved. He couldn't care less.

    What's happened to the Royal Commission report on aged care? Does it show the real situation of government neglect, and thus is delayed as much as possible to dampen objections to the plight of the elderly? Of course it does.

    Now before those who whing about taxpayer's money being "splurged" on Aged Care Homes, understand that many are private and good ones start around $800,000 RAD plus $3,700 approx/ month, in fact, they pay $2,100 of their fees to the homes per month by government allowance. Why? This is for the resident's lifetime. Some are in their 90's and have been there 20 or more years.
    The Thinker
    30th Jul 2020
    11:30am
    Aged Care facilities have had an appalling reputation for decades now. It is at the fault of those people running them by putting profit before lives.

    The clients of those nursing homes have their pensions taken from them and have to pay to soap and toilet paper with what little is left from their pension or savings. Nursing homes take a large chunk of the money from the houses owned by their clients too.

    These people should be living in luxury for the money they get charged. I advise all the children of the elderly to keep their parents at home and provide them with live-in help instead. A university student, pensioner, or retired carer would do better than the crap slave labour employed by nursing homes. That way their parents would be better cared for and be safer.
    On the Ball
    30th Jul 2020
    12:28pm
    Look at the statistics, the number of sick and dying in Public Aged Homes vs Private... It's telling.
    Most private aged care facilities are run by a few mega-corporations that take Government subsidies of BILLIONS of dollars per year. Most of that money goes to shareholders, yes, even overseas shareholders. WHY?
    The main spread of the virus has been linked to untrained personel (often on 457 visas) working multiple shifts in different facilities. And they dont get sick leave, dont get annual leave, and their conditions dont allow regular breaks (so they can take a breather from the constant needs of their clients). So, if they get the virus (or think they do) they can't afford to miss any work, so they continue to tend to our elderly, risking those lives they are supposed (but untrained) to care for.
    This comes down to "the corporate model" where workers are treated as yet another resource, to be used/stopped at will. Age care homes should NOT be "privatised". Care for the aged is one of the priorities of a caring society. And so the abilities of those at the front line, need to be cared for as well. Training, appropriate PPE, appropriate pay, sick leave (VERY important they dont go to work when sick!!), annual leave... All the conditions we (oldies) had when we were working.
    Yes, it would cost more, but if all the profits weren't going to shareholders and overseas companies, there would be ample funds.
    Incognito
    31st Jul 2020
    2:20am
    I agree, well said.
    aussiecarer
    30th Jul 2020
    12:35pm
    I think Australia needs to explore other aged care options. One option is to build an entire town in an underpopulated area where families can cheaply rent a home for as many years as they need to. Every house in that town has 6+ bedrooms - enough room for a family and 4 grandparents to live together. There's no denying that aged care homes are under pressure. But they would be under a lot more pressure if it weren't for the efforts of the middle aged offspring of the baby boomers. Many baby boomers with dementia have been living with their offspring for 10+ years now, and it's starting to take its toll on these families. I know of one household where the frazzled parents have been trying to earn a living, keep house, raise their own kids while simultaneously meeting the needs of their grandparents. The children have grown up for the past ten years with a grandmother with dementia. She constantly swears and behaves aggressively towards them all. To this family, the COVID lockdown is nothing. They feel like they've been in lockdown their entire life. The youngest can't even recall ever going on a family holiday.
    Karl Marx
    30th Jul 2020
    12:37pm
    I have already informed my children that putting me into an aged care facility is a death sentence. Either for me or any staff that might take the opportunity to abuse me for standing up for myself. Prison would be a far safe & hospitable place to be with better care & meals lol.
    Let me die at home.
    tisme
    30th Jul 2020
    12:59pm
    i worked in aged care 40 years ago , scabies /cockroaches /not enough sheets etc no one cared then and they dont care now
    Triss
    30th Jul 2020
    1:10pm
    Reforming care homes completely and insisting they are staffed with properly qualified nurses who are given the authority to work out staffing levels will give Australia something positive out of the Covid 19 tragedy.
    Nurse numbers and hours in age care homes have kept on dwindling since John Howard’s government deregulated the sector in 1997/8. $1 billion was slashed from aged care funding when he claimed that higher fees and bonds would provide the incentive for investors. There are now no government guidelines for nursing staff numbers.
    Over the years aged care facilities have been allowed to become profit creating cash cows causing many of the people in them to die through neglect. For years whichever government in power has received complaints citing neglect and physical, mental and sexual abuse and has done nothing.
    Bronwyn Bishop when she was the minister for aged care admitted that her department had received over 4,000 complaints but had not withdrawn any licences.
    I don’t believe in miracles. Government will stay apathetic over the elderly eg locking them up alone as they're doing now for Covid 19 instead of giving them quality nursing attention, food, fresh air, and company. We’ll have to make them change.
    Big Kev
    31st Jul 2020
    11:50am
    Triss, as someone who worked for Government in Aged Care most of my working life, I can wholeheartedly agree.

    In the couple of years pre-Howard, we withdrew licences or forced sales of 6 homes in one state. Since then, not one has been withdrawn, probably linked to privatisation of review of homes.

    However, it is not just nursing staff ratios needed. We also need AIN staff, diversional therapists, occupational therapists as well as speech therapist and social work hours and even financial therapist hours. Another big problem is the lack of GP's willing to visit homes, which puts pressure on hospital system, whilst those that do, are often ill trained in the needs of the elderley.

    Finally there is a flood of dementia coming into the Aged Care System, and most facilities are not designed to address dementia behaviours, nor is there the 24 hr individually designed diversional therapy to overcome challenging behaviours that affect other residents,
    Triss
    30th Jul 2020
    1:31pm
    "Victorian premier admits he wouldn’t put his mother into aged care'. So why has his government done absolutely nothing about the disgraceful state? We all know how apathetic and bone idle pollies are when it comes to our infirm elderly...but for a pollie to actually admit it...
    cupoftea
    30th Jul 2020
    1:53pm
    He is fighting a pandemic and aged care comes under federal government
    Triss
    30th Jul 2020
    3:12pm
    No, cup of tea, if you are the Premier and you have a critical problem in your state, and he admits he knows about it, then you do something about it. If you don't have the authority or backbone to do it yourself then you make sure somebody tackles the problem and keep on going until something is done. It seems like it might take a bit of strength as Greg Hunt sidestepped the question and praised the nursing staff and Dan Andrews decided that the patients were going to die anyway so why bother.
    Tanker
    30th Jul 2020
    3:32pm
    The bulk of the residents in aged care homes in Victoria are those for whom the Federal Government have total responsibility. There are also State owned and operated facilities but even those come under Federal Government regulations.
    It is some of the privately owned ones that have the current issues and are the Federal Government's responsibility.
    Greg Hunt is correct about the carers but they are obviously not the ones who have created the problems as it comes back to management and owners. Managers can only do what the owners allow and provide finance to carry out.
    Over the years the drive has been to maximise profits so costs are cut meaning staffing quality and levels are reduced. It is disturbing that while all aged care facilities are subject to Federal Government audits of care there is no audit of the government, i e taxpayers, finance provided to these private owners.
    Johno
    30th Jul 2020
    1:49pm
    What do you expect? Privately run "anything" will put profit before everything else, even human lives!! The dirty capitalist system of corruption and greed ruling the world.
    Triss
    30th Jul 2020
    3:14pm
    Sad but true, Johno, perhaps we need a wealth tax to even out the playing field a bit.
    Karl Marx
    30th Jul 2020
    3:45pm
    Or start introducing government owned & run facilities & force the private sector out of business until the whole aged care sector is again publicly owned.
    Governments should do this to a few other privately owned sectors that where once public
    P$cript
    31st Jul 2020
    7:08pm
    Karl there is Government run homes, but the federal government sets the rates and tops up those that don't have enough to cover costs. So having a state run facility won't change a thing.
    greenie
    30th Jul 2020
    4:04pm
    Notice that Andrews said '...some of these places...'.
    I bet Hunt's father was in a top notch place.
    Incognito
    31st Jul 2020
    2:23am
    Yes of course, able to afford the best. I wonder if it is the cheaply run facilities that are having the most cases of the virus.
    Incognito
    31st Jul 2020
    2:31am
    I am never putting my mum in an aged care facility. They serve the cheapest crappiest food, no hope of having anything nutritious and fresh, and never let them outside to get Vitamin D which is neccessary for your immune system to be strong.
    It broke my heart to see my dad die in one, he had dementia and from the moment he was put in their because mum could not cope, (she did try for a long time), he went down hill fast. He was left alone so much and even tied to a chair, drugged to the max, a bills for pills were overcharged, he was often found in someone elses clothes, and had absolutely no quality of life or any sort of entertainment or constant care.
    It is time we got rid of private run facilities, and invest in public aged care with more ratio of staff, this would create more jobs too.
    JoJozep
    31st Jul 2020
    10:29am
    Very interesting comments. Couple of questions. I still don't know if aged care homes (I'm referring to private ones) are actually subsidized or given taxpayers money. Here is the most clever scheme ever devised by any government department (DHS). That is, how can the government bequeath or donate $2,100 per month per resident (capped at $66,000), and at the same time pay actually nothing? Simple- In the end the resident or their supporters pay this extra fee on top of normal accommodation fees, and don't forget pluss that RAD in the first instance.

    This way, the government can claim they are not giving any taxpayer's money to privately run homes, but in effect, double taxing the residents or their supporters who pay the tax to the companies on the government's' behalf.

    By the way, that RAD, effectively demands the resident needs to sell their home to raise the initial funds. For those unfamiliar with what a RAD is, it's a term called Refundable Accommodation Deposit. The resident virtually buys a room or couple of rooms and toilet and held till the resident passes away. This amount varies with each nursing home. Expect to pay $500,000 Rad for a cheaper private home (with crap service) and up to $1,400,000 for more affluent ones. On passing of a resident, the RAD will pass straight to the beneficiaries (usually the children) and bypass the husband or wife of the resident, even if they are still living. Finally, the aged care company keeps the 8% or so interest it makes on the RAD per year.

    What it all boils down to is quality of life. If you decide to go private aged care, then you have the opportunity to select the right one that suits the resident best. Also, the fees paid are an indication of the quality of service. I've heard a public aged care home can be good or bad, but your selection options are limited, especially if you decide to find one close to where you live (since your the supporter of your resident). I've also heard some places are fully subscribed and you may have to wait years to gain a place. It's like private and public hospitals, everyone knows the frustrations of gaining public hospital care. So if you want cheap running costs, expect to get what you pay for.
    Incognito
    31st Jul 2020
    2:11pm
    Just a big rort for profits, disgusting how we treat the aged.
    Unikat
    31st Jul 2020
    5:19pm
    Under staffed, under qualified, under resourced, overwhelmed with the mentality of see no evil, hear no evil and report no evil so you do not cop any responsibility for the evil that arises.
    P$cript
    31st Jul 2020
    7:20pm
    The casualisation of the industry has ment the people in the homes don't receive the care required and not because they aren't trying to do their best, but because the environment is sterile.
    The staff are affected too by money insecurity, can't get loans.
    BobK
    1st Aug 2020
    2:40pm
    Please, visit this page: https://infogram.com/total-number-of-confirmed-cases-in-each-states-and-territory-1hzj4onl1eqp2pw
    and try your best to explain what happened in Victoria - I cannot.
    From mid-April to mid-June, all the states record slow decrease in numbers, except NSW (very slow increase) and Vic (slightly faster, but still slow increase). From about mid-June, Vic just goes crazy - all the other states follow the trend as before, but Vic goes from less than 2,000 to 11,000 cases in about 6 weeks!
    To me, this looks like something has happened around mid-June, in Victoria ONLY, that caused the numbers to explode. What changed at around that time - can anyone shed light any light on that? Ideas? Thoughts? Facts?
    Incognito
    1st Aug 2020
    2:44pm
    Two words: Hotel Quarantine.
    And they started testing like crazy.
    From my understanding from what I have read it that guards working at the hotels were not doing there job with protections and mixing with those under quarantine, went home every night to family, went to family gatherings, with some who worked in aged care, and then it went from there.
    BobK
    1st Aug 2020
    5:27pm
    You might be right. It also reminded me seeing (on YouTube) around that time a video-clip of some Asian people, working for a local or state office in Melbourne. They were hired and paid for going from door to door and warn/educate people on protecting against Corona-virus. Crunch was that they themselves did not bother wearing any facial masks. I remember it, because some of them couldn't either speak or understand English well enough, and avoided camera when asked a question. I will try to locate it again and post it here, but chances of finding it are not great.
    Incognito
    1st Aug 2020
    5:39pm
    It seems a lot of stuff was outsourced to private companies that were taking short cuts for the sake of money. I saw on TV awhile back when they were dropping off the testing kits and a bloke said it was still sitting outside the door waiting for pick up a week later and that the sample was not longer viable.
    Farside
    3rd Aug 2020
    6:31pm
    the story is yet to be written but so far we are told there were two guards, each at separate hotel, that were seduced by returning traveller who were pre-symptomatic. This coincided with the easing of lockdown and Eid celebrations. The virus then spread through a series of large family gatherings to schools, workplaces and shopping centres. When it became obvious that people were not self isolating on return the hotel quarantine was directed and in order to move quickly three firms that had previously been vetted for government work were given the security job. This was not to save money but to execute quickly. Money has not been a consideration.

    The face masks were not used when going door to door because they were outside and more than 1.5m distance. The idea of using non-english speakers reflects the diversity of languages, lack of trust towards authorities and level of illiteracy within the migrant communities.

    And do be a little more skeptical of the hysteria being promoted in the media. Yes mistakes are made in any logistical exercise of this magnitude, but the self test kits were not widely used overall and one test not being collected does not change the epidemiology. He was to remain in isolation until his result received. He did not answer when they returned to collect the sample, afterwards he just put it out and he did not call let anyone know it was ready.
    Farside
    1st Aug 2020
    10:01pm
    If you know in advance your loved ones will receive less than 'top-notch' care in aged homes or you learn they are not delivering the services required, then why choose these privatised pirates and keep them in business? Don't blame the casualised staff, blame the owners and management and take responsibility for your own decisions.
    Farside
    1st Aug 2020
    10:01pm
    If you know in advance your loved ones will receive less than 'top-notch' care in aged homes or you learn they are not delivering the services required, then why choose these privatised pirates and keep them in business? Don't blame the casualised staff, blame the owners and management and take responsibility for your own decisions.
    Karl Marx
    1st Aug 2020
    11:29pm
    Private anything is profit before people full stop.
    Government is the same, profit for friends before people & voters
    JoJozep
    3rd Aug 2020
    10:30am
    Hey Karl, sounds like we're moving to a communist state.
    JoJozep
    3rd Aug 2020
    11:22am
    Farside made an interesting comment. Why would you bother with private aged care homes and pay high prices for looking after your loved one? Well, I would say general greed. The almighty dollar always determines fate. In most States in Australia, you generally have a parallel universe. Where there are private hospitals, there are in most cases public hospitals. This is generally the case with aged care homes, and even down to selection of specialists doctors.
    This suggests some choice between public and private facilities, so why would people choose private over public? I see three main reasons really.

    Affluence, availability and government meanness.

    If the family is based in an affluent suburb, you would like your aged parent or grandparent to be in a facility close by, so you can visit everyday if possible to keep their spirits up. Suburbs close to the CBD are usually posh and convenience suburbs and you would find few public services like hospitals and aged care homes. Also, well off people are usually working from home or in jobs close by and can't tolerate waiting in outpatients for attention in public hospitals. I know, because I waited 9 hours before a doctor saw me at Box Hill Hospital (public) after I had a stroke (TIA). In fact it was so late, everyone in the MRI theater had gone home, so no MRI. DAWH! TIA's mean a blood clot on the brain! Who would put up with this shit? If I passed away, they would say I didn't recover from the stroke. Cause: Lack of government funding. The hospital is understaffed on purpose to reduce competition. Same for Aged Care Homes.

    Choices_ there are none in my suburb and surrounding suburbs, absolutely no public aged care homes. no availability within reasonable distance. Cause: Lack of government funding.

    It all boils down to politics. If you can cover a wide area of working class people who of course are potential voters, you would provide a public hospital (provided objections from private facilities are muted) and there is no competition. The government will not risk upsetting big business, especially in the lucrative health area.

    Look at the USA, where people are screaming at the fees being charged (by both public and private hospitals) and I hope we are not heading down that track.

    The only way I see out of these limitations, is to go for good care at expensive rates, if that's all that's available. I wouldn't normally go this far, but my loved one is too precious to me to ignore her plight after so many years of happiness together.
    Farside
    3rd Aug 2020
    12:36pm
    JoJozep, my point is to reward the good operators but do not put up with mediocrity and keep these greedy pirates in business; let the pirates fail, quickly. Paying good money to sate the greed of sketchy private operators is not improving standards of care. I just don't get why anyone would deliberately place loved ones into these environments in the first place knowing how they will be treated. It's a poor excuse to say I had no choice and made complaints.
    Incognito
    3rd Aug 2020
    1:03pm
    Many people die in USA because of lack of health care, in some states they leave you out in the street with your gown still on, to fend for yourself if you cannot pay.
    A big part of the reason so many are dying from the virus is because they cannot afford the health care, the hospitals choose those you can afford it, many of those who cannot afford it are those who are the unhealthiest, over weight from junk food and poor nutrition,sub standard or no housing, addicted to meds for depression etc.
    We need more funding to keep people in their own homes while they are still capable, this keeps them healthier. Those dying in aged care are not getting the proper nursing when sick, no additional care when sick, no medications or even a hot lemon drink which would boost their immunity, it is a real tragedy how the residents are currently being treated and they are using everything in their power to cover it up, locking down so no relative can even check on them, CCTV must be installed immediately.
    Farside
    3rd Aug 2020
    5:10pm
    And health care in USA is relevant to aged care in Australia how?
    Incognito
    3rd Aug 2020
    5:11pm
    It is not just agreeing we do not want to have a USA style health care system.
    Farside
    3rd Aug 2020
    5:24pm
    ok, don't want one like India or many other countries either. Hopefully people reflect on all the crapness being laid bare as a result of the pandemic and work out what sort of society they want and vote accordingly - in USA, India and Australia.