Act on aged care ‘neglect’: Mitchell

Merle Mitchell says Australians needs to "get behind" a damning report on aged care. 126005_21 Picture: GARY SISSONS

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

A damning Royal Commission interim report on aged care is of no surprise to Greater Dandenong ‘living treasure’ Merle Mitchell.

The Springvale community trailblazer welcomed the “awesome” findings that echoed her concerns since moving to Waverley Valley Aged Care in 2016.

Ms Mitchell said aged care homes needed more staff – and more staff with experience and better training and pay.

There should be more registered nurses rather than lightly-trained ‘patient care attendants’, she said.

“Do you know the patient care attendants do a six-week course and then they’re said to be fully trained?”

“That’s just absurd – and not many know that.”

Another priority was better food, which could be provided at “not great expense”.

Ms Mitchell said the Gross Domestic Product spend of 1.1 per cent on aged care lagged behind other developed countries.

“Australia is right at the bottom of developed countries in the world.”

But then there’s also the attitude – the lack of empathy that permeated at her home.

“Empathy is what we need.

“Not a ‘how are you feeling today’ and then turning on your heel and walk out the door before you even respond.”

In the interim report, Commissioner Richard Tracey wrote about how a “routine thoughtless act … when repeated day after day, becomes unkindness and often cruelty”.

“This is how ‘care’ becomes ‘neglect’.”

He reported “often shocking evidence” of unacceptable practices such as inadequate wound management leading to septicaemia and death.

Many aged care homes didn’t encourage toilet use or rationed continence pads so residents were lying in faeces and urine, the report stated.

Food, nutrition and hydration were “dreadful”, with a high number of assaults and overprescribing of sedative drugs and physical restraints, he reported.

Of the success stories, those homes prevailed due to their own “passion and dedication”.

“In short, they are succeeding despite the aged care system in which they operate rather than because of it.”

A full report recommending “comprehensive reform” is expected to be released in the next 12 months.

Ms Mitchell paid tribute to the late Commissioner Tracey, who worked on the report in his dying days.

“I think we were extraordinarily lucky to have the chair of this commission that we had.

“His death was an absolute tragedy. He was the most empathetic person.”

Commissioner Tracey sat down with Ms Mitchell after she’d given evidence at a hearing.

“He talked to me about how important my contribution had been.

“In response to him, we in the community have to get behind the report.

“He’s exposed the problems, we know what the solutions are and we have to make sure that the Governments make the money available for that to happen.”

A Greater Dandenong Living Treasure, Ms Mitchell is an aged-care advocate for Council On The Ageing (COTA).

She is involved in a new RMIT-developed training course for care workers.

She is a past director and founder of the Springvale Community Aid and Advice Bureau (now South East Community Links), as well as setting up Springvale Neighbourhood House and the Family Mediation Centre.

She is also a former president of the Australian Council of Social Service.