Reposted from a story By Margot O’Neill, staff
Traumatised relatives have raised shocking claims that their loved ones were left to die unnecessarily or in great pain because of a critical lack of staff and training in nursing homes.
The ABC’s Lateline program has spoken to many people about their loved ones’ experiences in nursing homes across Australia.
Their complaints include relatives being left in faeces and urine, rough treatment, poor nutrition, inadequate pain relief, verbal abuse, and untreated broken bones and infections.
And one woman has told that ABC that her grandmother, who survived Nazi concentration camps, believes her experiences in aged care are worse than her wartime ordeal.
Jane Green’s mother Margaret McEvoy, a former nurse and foster carer, died last year after spending time in a Victorian nursing home.
Ms Green says over-worked and under-trained staff were not giving medication properly and were leaving Ms McEvoy to wet herself because no-one was available to take her to the toilet.
Ms Green says her mother also complained of being constantly hungry, and suffering abuse by staff members.
“The staff member called her a spoilt brat and a princess and [said] that she always wanted to get her own way,” Ms Green told Lateline.
“She became very shut down …it was like seeing someone who had the stuffing knocked out of them.
“When I would leave on Friday nights, she would look at me and just say to me ‘I’m all right’, and I knew she was just trying to be brave.”
Ms Green says her mother was in great pain, but staff believed she was simply attention-seeking.
“I witnessed mum screaming in front of them and they still did not see that as being pain,” she told Lateline.
For five days, staff tried to make Ms McEvoy walk. In fact, she had an undiagnosed broken thigh bone, a raging infection, and severe dehydration.
Ms Green, who is also a nurse, had to fight to get her mother taken to hospital, where she was immediately put into palliative care. She died six weeks later.
Other families back up abuse claims at the same nursing home
Ms Green has since spoken to a former staff member and other families with relatives in the same nursing home.
They told her other elderly residents were also abused.
When I would leave on Friday nights, she would look at me and just say to me ‘I’m all right’, and I knew she was just trying to be brave.
One incapacitated man had urine-soaked sheets thrown at him, while a woman was left crying out with abdominal pain. She later died with a gangrenous gall bladder.
Senator Jacinta Collins, Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, says the stories of mistreatment are very concerning.
“Concerns about shortages and workforce issues are very important matters as well,” she told Lateline.
“They informed the Government’s recent response, the legislation that went through to the Senate in the last sitting week, for living longer, living better, because we know we need to increase the training, we know we need to establish a more stable workforce in aged care, and we know that there are limited numbers of specialists.
“This is why the Labor government has a 10-year plan to improve the supply of services to meet the future demand. We’ve had shortages in aged care in Australia for way too long.”
Wartime survivor ‘better off in a concentration camp’
The shocking stories from the Victorian nursing home are not uncommon.
Mardi Walker’s 91-year-old grandmother Paula Javurek was in a New South Wales nursing home that was supposed to deliver high care.
The nurse and health care lecturer was horrified when she found her grandmother with exposed raw ear cartilage due to lack of turning, and one of her arms immobilised after staff botched injections.
“They would just keep injecting into the same spot and she would scream. My mother said it was horrific, because she would scream,” Ms Walker said.
Ms Javurek had survived Nazi concentration camps, and was tortured and raped after being captured during the war.
Her family told the nursing home only female staff should wash her because of residual trauma from wartime assaults.
But the family has since counted 70 times when male carers washed Ms Javurek, who tried to fight them off.
“I think she felt like she was almost probably back in wartime again. My mother often used to say… she would be better off being in a concentration camp than where she is,” Ms Walker said.
After finding their grandmother shivering from cold and suffering undiagnosed pneumonia, Ms Javurek’s family took her home. A week later, in February this year, she died.
Relative threatened with defamation for blowing the whistle
Most of the nursing homes concerned were fully accredited by the Federal Government.
Families say they saw little change after going through the Federal Aged Care Complaints Scheme. In fact, many say they experienced bullying and retribution by the nursing home when they did complain.
Ms Green was threatened with defamation for complaining about her mother’s treatment to the Health Practitioner’s Authority.
“It was frightening, you know, you have images of being sued,” Ms Green said.
“It’s stressful to persist and keep going but if I don’t everything that happened to my mum will be dead and buried.”
Aged care lecturer Maree Bernoth has been listening to families’ stories for more than a decade.
“The stories are more heartbreaking and more incredible,” she said.
Why is it that experiences of families who are telling us about older people dying in pain… does not get the same response from the Australian public as cattle being shipped overseas?
“It’s very difficult to listen to these stories and to not be angry and to not feel impotent because you can’t do anything about it.
“Why is it that experiences of families who are telling us about older people dying in pain, older people dying malnourished and dehydrated, does not get the same response from the Australian public as cattle being shipped overseas?”
New minister admits she’s ‘not fully across’ all the issues
Repeated surveys find that 20 to 50 per cent of nursing home residents are malnourished, and the Australian Medical Association says there are not enough doctors to visit residents.
The Nursing Federation says there are not enough properly-trained carers, while Palliative Care Australia says only one in five residents receive proper palliative care.
Lateline approached the Aged Care Standards and Accreditation Agency for an interview. The organisation declined.
Senator Collins said it was critical Australia had a strong aged care system and an effective complaints mechanism.
“I’m a new minister. I’m not fully across all of the indicators that the accreditation agency looks at,” she said.
“I’m yet to have a detailed conversation with them about what outcomes they’re measuring, what else is available through academic work, through the consultative bodies that we have in place in aged care.
“But we have had a strong system in aged care in terms of accreditation, monitoring and complaints processes, and on the whole, that system has been working reasonably well.
“But we need to grow the system, we need to grow the quality, we need to improve the workforce and that is the plan that went through the Senate a couple of weeks ago.
“We need to put more investment into aged care services, which is why we roughly doubled it. We need to increase that investment into the future.
“The alternative, under a Tony Abbott government, would be aged care would not be immune from the other cuts that we’ll see roll out.”