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Monday, 27 November 2000
Page: 22755

Ms BURKE (5:00 PM) —I wish to raise today recent events surrounding a nursing home: Moorfields facility in my electorate, known as 75 Thames Street in Box Hill, otherwise referred to as Moorfields. This facility was opened just two years ago and the approved provider is the Uniting Church of Australia. The facility has 120 beds and caters for 60 high care residents. In October, disturbing information came to light about a range of inadequate and dangerous procedures that were being carried out by the 75 Thames Street facility. These allegations were not of a trivial nature. I would like to the read into Hansard a few of the allegations reported by the supplementary audit report into the facility during their belated inspection on 30, 31 August and 1 September this year:

Residents are not referred to appropriate health specialists in accordance with their needs and preferences.

Residents' medication is not managed safely or correctly.

Residents are not as free from pain as possible.

The comfort and dignity of the terminally ill resident is not maintained.

Residents do not receive adequate nourishment and hydration.

Residents' continence is not managed effectively.

Residents' right to privacy and dignity is not recognised and respected.

There is no effective infection control program.

The audit report rated the hostel in the areas of health and personal care, and physical environment and safe systems as `a serious risk'. Accordingly, the department found that there was an immediate and severe risk to the safety, health or wellbeing of residents and the provider did not comply with all its responsibilities in relation to quality of care.

On 13 October sanctions were approved, including a ban on Commonwealth funding for new residents for six months. At first glance, it would appear as if a very concerning situation had been dealt with adequately by the Aged Care Standards and Accreditation Agency. Sadly, this was not the case. The Australian Nursing Federation lodged a complaint with the department of aged care on 29 November 1999, some nine months before their claims were investigated. There are absolutely no excuses for these delays, considering that some of the concerns raised were as serious as infection control, the lack of dignity for the terminally ill and problems with medication. Surely, the department should have left no stone unturned to investigate the facility. However—despite the denials of the minister—the department, under questioning in the Senate estimates last week, revealed there had been extensive delays in the handling of complaints about 75 Thames Street. Even when the department received notification of serious risks at Thames Street, it took a further six weeks before penalties were imposed.

My office had received complaints about the facility in the intervening period. I have had many about food and relative nursing standards. Since the details of the complaints hit the front page last week, I have received a call from a man about his companion, whom he has cared for for many years of his life. She was at Thames Street for respite care. One morning, she suffered a stroke. It has now robbed her of her speech and many basic functions. Apparently, she was not found by staff until 11.30 a.m., on the floor, hours after she had had a stroke. This is appalling both because she had not turned up for breakfast and because nobody had even bothered to check. So there she was, lying on the floor for many hours. If she had been gotten to earlier, maybe she would not be in the situation she is now in. This neglect has led to her been confined to a nursing home for the foreseeable future. I heard about this incident only recently after the story came to light in the press.

I have had many other confidential complaints about Thames Street and I have always referred them on to the complaints scheme. As most members will attest, MPs work on the basis that a constituent's complaint will be taken seriously when we refer them to review bodies such as the standards agency. I no longer have the confidence that complaints I often receive will be properly investigated. It is difficult enough to convince the families of aged care residents to come forward with their complaints. As many members would know, a lot of family members are reticent about coming forward with their complaints, as they already suffer enough guilt when they admit a loved one into care and they have genuine fears that their loved one may be turned out or treated badly because they have complained about something.

Now I find out it has taken up to nine months for a serious complaint to be looked into. This further destroys public confidence in the system. So why did it take nine months to investigate these serious complaints? Is the agency, like the entire sector, underfunded? Is it ministerial dithering or neglect? One could offer any number of reasons for the delay. In fact, nine months seems to be a magic number with this minister, who delayed the beginning of the accreditation process for nine months. The only conclusion that can be reasonably drawn is that the minister is incapable of managing her department. She has not got a clue what is going on and yet again she has let down older Australians. Ministerial incompetence is never welcome. However, the need for proper process is of heightened importance in the delicate area of aged care, and the minister is simply not up to the job.

This facility at 75 Thames Street has now had a nurse adviser appointed and the Uniting Church has replaced the management of the hostel and has installed consultants. Indeed, the Uniting Church was also angered that it had taken nine months to investigate the complaint. I certainly hope that 75 Thames Street can realise its potential as a quality provider of aged care in my electorate of Chisholm. This is particularly important at present, as there are only 862 aged care beds in Chisholm. This number will need to be increased in a short period of time, as suburbs like Box Hill, Burwood, Oakleigh and Clayton continue to be home to many aged residents. Of the residents in my electorate, 23 per cent are aged 65-plus and have very real and immediate needs for retirement villages, hostel care and nursing homes. Their needs are unmet both in my electorate and across the country. Of the residents in my electorate of Chisholm, 21 per cent are aged between 50 and 65, meaning they are in the baby boomer bracket and will have a need for high quality care facilities over the next 10 to 20 years. So that means 44 per cent of residents in my electorate—close to half—are in a position where aged care facilities will be an issue for them in the coming years.

There are two other elements of aged care I would like to touch on in the time I have left. The first is the impending bed shortage due to the government's bumbling introduction of accreditation. I am on the record in this place as supporting the process of accreditation, but it needs to be done appropriately, with spot checks and the investigation of complaints in speedy time. All companies or agencies that are in receipt of such huge public funds must be subject to checks. More importantly, these companies have been entrusted with the care of older people in their twilight years. It is inexplicable how the government could have set 31 December 2000 as a deadline for accreditation yet delayed by nine months the enabling regulations to kick the process off.

After questioning last week by the shadow minister for aged care, Senator Evans, the Department of Health and Aged Care at a Senate estimates committee hearing revealed that 31 facilities have failed accreditation, five have not applied and 15 to 20 will not be certified and hence accredited. This is an unmitigated disaster and we may see as many as 2,500 beds closing after the deadline passes. As most of the community winds down for Christmas, many families will be left with the unenviable problem of trying to find a suitable place of care for their loved ones. What is most curious is the fact that the government does not appear to have outlined any contingency plans in the lead-up to the accreditation deadline. I certainly join with Senator Evans and ANHECA in appealing to the government to put in place a consistent and efficient system of consulting with residents and their families about alternative forms of accommodation in the event of further bed shortages or indeed bed closures.

The final issue I would like to address is the broader question of funding the aged care sector. A recent Productivity Commission report found that the government will underfund the aged care sector by $200 million in 2001. The majority of aged care dollars are provided for the most sick and frail, those over 75 years and those in the last two years of their lives. Only six per cent of the aged population are in nursing homes or hostels, yet this is where the majority of government funding goes. It would be my observation that there will be a push for increased funding of home and community care which will keep many older people out of residential care and in the more comfortable and familiar surroundings of their own homes. However, there will always be a need for high care, particularly as life expectancy rates increase. The longer people live, the more likely they are to need to spend their final years in some form of assisted accommodation. As the cost of advanced medical breakthroughs continues to rise, combined with the influx of people in the aged care bracket via the baby boomer generation, we will need to commit enormous funds into the aged care sector.

With subsidies running at up to $120 a day per resident by the government, we must as a society work out ways to meet the cost of caring for older people. No-one can say that the answer is obvious, but the government must pay more serious attention to this issue than it has. It must have a minister who can actually do her job. But it is not only the government who must face up to this need to inject serious funds into the aged care sector. The aged care sector must also be prepared to diversify the service it provides. As I have entered many aged care facilities in my electorate, I am often surprised that most facilities cater only for particular residents and one level of care. The Ageing in Place concept is gaining currency, and I think we need to encourage nursing homes and hostel providers to invest in more holistic facilities.

It is timely to be discussing this issue as the government's Aged Care Amendment Bill 2000 will be debated in the Senate tonight. Whilst Labor supports the general thrust of this bill, the bill does not deal with the most pressing problems in this sector. It is time for an independent inquiry to be conducted into the government's complaints system. I know I speak for all of my electorate when I say that I never want to read again a 30-page report detailing the neglect that is contained in the agency's report into 75 Thames Street. The government stands condemned for failing to have in place a system that can deal swiftly and appropriately with these shocking cases. (Time expired)