Shadow Minister for Senior Australians Clare O'Neil, Mandy Heather and Rob Mitchell discussed what problems need to be addressed in the aged care facility.

By Tricia Mifsud

BlueCross Willowmeade staff had the opportunity to reinforce crucial aged care issues such as staff shortages, adequate care and a need to see changes now at a discussion with Australian Labor Party members.

Member for McEwen, Rob Mitchell, then shadow minister for senior Australians and aged care services Clare O’Neil and Senator for Victoria Jana Stewart visited the Kilmore aged care facility on May 18, prior to the federal election.

After talking with residents about what they enjoy the most about living at Willowmeade, the three politicians discussed with residence manager Mandy Heather about what she believed needed to be addressed in aged care.

Ms Heather emphasised that aged care facilities had problems ‘long before’ the COVID-19 pandemic struck Australia, but said it added another level of complexity in managing the issues aged care already faced.

“There are customer expectations, resident expectations, staffing expectations, all the compliance that we live with as well as the many other contextual issues that we’re juggling, and then along came COVID,” Ms Heather said.

“And so, what COVID has really done is hoist a whole other range of conditions and requirements on us. Obviously, the lockdowns were incredibly difficult for us, our residents and families.

“Then we’ve dealt also with the workforce deteriorating. Again, workforce has always been a challenging issue in aged care but it’s so, so much worse now.”

In October 2018, the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety was established, with a special report on COVID-19 and aged care delivered in October 2020 and a final report in February 2021.

The commission made 148 recommendations to reform the aged care system.

However Ms Heather said major changes she had seen since the report had been an increase in data reporting, rather than addressing issues like staff shortages, and targeted care for residents depending on individual health issues.

“We’ve had a whole range of other initiatives come out of that, which is a good thing, but I have to say what it feels like, primarily is the reporting, the data provision has been the primary thing that we’ve got,” she said.

“I haven’t seen a lot of improvements, but I have had to increase hugely the amount of data that I submit to the commission … it can take hours.

“One of the things that came out of the commission was there were many, many aggressive episodes that come with residents who have behaviours associated with dementia. They were not required to be reported to the commission if the perpetrator of the aggression was not cognitively competent.

“Now, they want to know about every possible injury to a resident by physical or psychological means. For example, if a resident grabbed your arm and you might push them back or push them away, even though neither resident will probably not remember that two minutes later, and there’s no harm from it, there was the potential for psychological injury.

“That results in four incident reports and taking staff off the floor to complete those reports in a time where we are so extremely short on staff already.”

Ms O’Neil said the Labor Party was committed to create change in aged care and increasing the workforce, increasing pay for workers, and ensuring residents had access to nurses 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“Aged care is one of the big points of difference between Labor and Liberal, and [there will be] big reforms from Labor, and we want to introduce 24-7 nursing, 250 minutes of nursing a day and transparency and accountability,” she said.

“We’re also committed to is making sure that aged care workers get their pay rise and we’re committed to funding that … the big picture is that we’re really taking that approach where the workforce is the centre of everything, and we know that nothing really is going to change in aged care unless we address that.”

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