Elder abuse incidents feel like aged care’s version of ‘Groundhog Day’

Published on 11 June 2024 (Last updated on 13 June 2024)

Ongoing reports of elder abuse and neglect in aged care have led to ‘Groundhog Day’ comparisons. [Copilot]

The Chief Executive Officer of ADA Australia (Aged and Disability Advocates), Geoff Rowe, has appeared on Brisbane talkback radio station 4BC claiming that it feels like ‘Groundhog Day’ with the amount of reported instances of neglect and abuse in aged care.

“We’re now three years down the road since the Aged Care Royal Commission [into Quality and Safety] released its report and you would think that we’re starting to get somewhere. But it feels like Groundhog Day; we’re hearing the same stories, the same concerns and really, it’s not good enough,” he told 4BC Drive’s Peter Gleeson.

The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission’s most recent Sector Performance Report (Oct-Dec 2023) revealed the number of reported incidents increased by 12% over a 12 month period in residential care. 

Most of the growth can be attributed to instances of unreasonable use of force and neglect with a combined 11,449 incidents reported in the second quarter of 2023/24. 

Mr Rowe said this statistic has consistently remained high and he is concerned it’s because those involved in the aged care system still do not see the person receiving care as an individual. However, he does feel that progress is being made after much advocating.

“A lot of times people tell us they feel like they’re having things done to them, they’re a commodity, or they’re something that’s in the way,” he said.

“We do have an Aged Care Act that’s being developed. ADA had the fortunate opportunity of being involved in some of the dialogue with the drafters and we’re still shaking our head saying ‘People don’t get it’. The noise that we’re making is such that […] I suddenly felt that they are getting it, they do understand that the older person has to be the centre. 

But with providers reportedly sharing their concerns over the cost of providing person centred or human rights-based aged care, Mr Rowe added that a cultural shift is needed alongside a legislated one.

“I think people get confused with an ideal life versus an ordinary life. A lot of the people we talk to just want to be treated like everyone else. So more than anything what we need to see is a culture change,” Mr Rowe added. 

A more transparent Government

After a promising start to life, the current Federal Government’s shiny approach to aged care reform has worn off. Yes, they’re in the middle of what is undeniable generational reform, but many do feel reality has set in: it’s far easier to promise change than create change.

There is still plenty of support for the Government and when asked if they are doing enough, Mr Rowe praised their transparency.

“I think I’ve seen five aged care ministers during the time I’ve been in this role. What we have now more than ever is transparency. We’re hearing more about what’s going on behind closed door. In the past things haven’t been as transparent.” he said.

“There’s still a lot to do. Maybe ask this question of me in six months, 12 months time when the new Aged Care legislation comes in. If it comes in and says ‘Our starting point is an older person has rights and they’ve got to be treated appropriately’, then I’ll be happy to stand up and clap very loudly.”

The Government’s focus on data transparency since the Royal Commission is arguably one contributing factor to the rising number of reported incidents, too. Such incidents have likely been commonplace but there has not been any transparency around reporting and monitoring. Now, staff, consumers and advocates can raise awareness over elder abuse and neglect. 

Mr Rowe would loke to see more training to increase awareness of elder abuse. He also acknowledged how complex of an issue it is, but that transparency and recognition now is a critical step forward. 

“I had the good fortune in 2019 to look at travel around the world to look at how people prevented and responded to elder abuse in aged care and in the community. What I saw is that elder abuse, whether it’s in aged care or the community, is alive and well,” Mr Rowe said.

“Some of it is about ageism, some is about how we see older people and how we view them, some is about the financial differential we have. It’s incredibly complex, I wish there was a simple solution. There isn’t.

“But talking about it, having people saying this is not acceptable is incredibly important. In some ways the abuse we’re seeing that’s occurring to older people is a little bit like where domestic violence was 20 years ago, where it wasn’t necessarily talked about, wasn’t seen as a criminal activity. I’d love to have a time machine that would take me from now and fast forward 20 years to see the progress we’ve made.”

aged care reform
new aged care act
geoff rowe
serious incident response scheme
ADA Austalia
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