Opinion – Our elders deserve respect
First published in The West Australian, 2 March 2021
Craig Gear, CEO OPAN
The realities of aged care have been laid bare.
Older people, their carers and families have shared confronting experiences that are hard to hear.
But older people have lived them.
These issues are not new. For decades, older people have told the nine member organisations within the Older Persons Advocacy Network of the daily challenges they face in receiving high quality aged care services.
As a nation, we have failed some of the most vulnerable people in our community. Now we have a unique opportunity to transform the aged care sector and correct the wrongs exposed by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.
We owe it to older people to meet their honesty and bravery by transforming aged care, not just over the five years proposed by the Royal Commissioners, the Honourable Tony Pagone QC, Ms Lynelle Briggs AO and the late Richard Tracey AM RFD QC, but into the future.
The recommendation for increased funding for individual and systemic advocacy and education under the National Aged Care Advocacy Program is a no-brainer, but we are troubled there are no recommendations to mandate rights-based education.
Recommendations for all older people to be supported to raise and address concerns about their aged care rights, and a greater weighting of their experiences must be rapidly pursued.
Our member organisations contact residential aged care facilities across Australia to offer free sessions for both staff and residents to learn about advocacy and supports available to them under the National Aged Care Advocacy Program.
Facilities regularly turn those offers down – this cannot be allowed to continue. We are also bothered by how many older people live without the support of family and friends to seek help.
Many choose not to complain or report care shortfalls because they fear retribution against themselves or their representative, particularly those living in residential aged care.
Network members like Advocare in Western Australia, who have supported older people across the state for 25 years, recognise the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission’s response to complaints is seen by older people and their families as untimely and inadequate.
Without the oversight of an Inspector General, we won’t learn from our mistakes and embed the changes promised by providers and the broader sector. Following through on this proposal will drive the systemic transformation older people deserve.
A new Aged Care Act that enshrines the human rights of older people will go some way to resetting the aged care system. However, legislation alone will not achieve the fundamental focus on rights that is needed in day–to–day care delivery. We must train aged care workers to respect an individual’s rights, how to build rights into their aged care practice, and the role of advocacy.
Face-to-face contact and support are essential for older people, especially when engaging with a complex system that they haven’t been involved with before, and particularly for those with diverse life experiences and characteristics.
Care finders will play a crucial role in helping older people navigate the complexities of aged care. Commissioner Briggs has urged the Australian government to invest in services that help older people do just that.
These connector services must cater to people from the most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities, including First Nations people, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, Forgotten Australians and LGBTQI people. They have told us they are reluctant to access “care finding support” from statutory or government entities.
Older people have told us these supports should be independent of government and aged care providers. With relevant skills and knowledge, a professional workforce can be established and operate with integrity outside of the public service.
In its current form, the aged care system fails to uphold older people’s fundamental human rights and does not have the resources and structures needed to ensure those rights are respected, protected and enforced.
A lack of capacity and ability among many aged care providers to implement the Charter of Aged Care Rights in their practice drives the deficits in the current system.
The Royal Commission’s findings must result in older people being put at the centre of a transformation to the system tasked with their care. The choice and dignity of older people should be the top priority.
Government, providers and the sector must engage older people through co-design to re-shape aged care to support all older people. The devil will be in the detail of implementation.
The timing of the implementation of recommendations, how they are rolled out by government, and how they influence and impact on each other, requires careful planning. This must not stop actions being taken.
We want to see older people empowered and enabled to self-manage their home care packages with the option of seeking a care manager if they wish. Those packages need to be accessible to people when and where they need them.
Older people must remain the decision-maker and retain choice and control over all decisions about their care and services, whether they are receiving home care services or living in residential aged care.
Older people are saying their voices are still not being heard by all players in Australia’s aged care sector, including by the Older Persons Advocacy Network. We hear you, and we are working with older people to do more.
We all have a role to play to embed respect for older people in our society. We must ensure older people remain connected and supported in their communities. We stand ready to work with the government and the sector to support the aged care transformation we all know is needed.
The Older Persons Advocacy Network is available to support you on 1800 700 600.