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ROYAL COMMISSION: “The good, the bad and the downright unacceptable”

Lisa Backhouse provided a tearful statement to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety on the fourth day of the Darwin hearings, outlining horrible cases of elder abuse and poor continence and serious injury management experienced by her mother.

​Lisa Backhouse gave a heart wrenching statement to the Royal Commission about the unacceptable conditions her mother was subject to over her time in aged care. ​[Source: Aged Care Royal Commission]
​Lisa Backhouse gave a heart wrenching statement to the Royal Commission about the unacceptable conditions her mother was subject to over her time in aged care. ​[Source: Aged Care Royal Commission]

Former journalist, Ms Backhouse, gave moving evidence about her mother, Christine Weightman, which has demonstrated “the good, the bad and the downright unacceptable” care provided in the aged care sector.

Ms Backhouse has had multiple confrontations with different facilities over the appropriate care of her mother.

During Ms Weightman’s time at one nursing home, she experienced frequent falls, usually resulting in injuries. 

When Ms Backhouse asked the facility carers to check on her mother more often to prevent these falls, they said they didn’t have time to undertake what she asked., the bad

She says the staffing levels at the nursing home was so low that they couldn’t provide basic care to residents.

“Mum’s level of agitation had been rising and the nursing home was pushing strongly to increase her medication, but I believed greater care for her basic needs and behavioural interventions would improve her comfort and reduce her agitation,” says Ms Backhouse.

Ms Backhouse was aware her advanced vascular dementia could present its issues, but not so much that her mother needed to be heavily medicated.

Continence management was a big problem with the facility with an instance in late 2018 when nurses made Ms Backhouse aware that her mother's continence aid had not been changed in a long time, which she says “breached all levels of basic hygiene and human standards.”

The complaint following this incident was made to the facility but seemed to fall on deaf ears, with no tangible action taken by the nursing home to handle the serious issues around Ms Weightman’s continence management.

This was evident two weeks later when Ms Weightman had a serious fall, leaving her leg “smashed” in two different places.

Ms Backhouse strongly believes poor continence management contributed to the serious fall since she was trying to move and mobilise herself due to the discomfort. 

“I used the word "smashed" because the lower break, near the ankle, was a smattering of small bones floating like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle… I can only imagine the pain it must have caused,” says Ms Backhouse.

“Despite relaying the doctor's concerns regarding the severity of the broken leg, her care at the nursing home was dreadfully deficient over the following days.”

In late November 2018, after the serious leg injury, Ms Backhouse found her mother in pain on her bed, soaked in urine.

After confronting staff, she ascertained her mother had been only given over-the-counter pain medication, panadol, to manage the pain of a broken leg.

Out of desperation and lack of faith in the nursing home, Ms Backhouse moved her mother to another facility, which she believed to be better for the first three months until she received word from the aged care home that her mother had been struck by a carer.

The carer was stood down, but unfortunately, a few weeks later, Ms Backhouse received a similar call where another carer had struck her mother. The individual was also stood down and reported to the police.

“I was told my mother had been hit with intent and force twice on her upper leg. I simply cannot describe the feeling of devastation and powerlessness that this has delivered. I had moved her to guarantee her safety and instead delivered her further into harm's way,” says Ms Backhouse.

Ms Backhouse is disappointed there is no national register for carers in aged care that would have prevented this abuse towards her mother.

At the next facility, Ms Backhouse was desperate for good quality care for her mother, she received permission from the nursing home to place surveillance cameras into her room because she didn’t know what else she could do to ensure her safety.

Even with the cameras and increased attentiveness by staff, Ms Weightman still had experienced one incident where she was left unattended on the floor for 43 minutes even though an alert had been sent from her room.

“This is indicative of a much wider systemic issue, that of failure of staff to attend in a timely way following sensor or call button alerts. I’ve experienced this personally innumerable time and across multiple centres,” says Ms Backhouse.

Overall, the emotional evidence concluded with Ms Backhouse’s wish for staffing ratios for facilities, appropriate consequences for aged care homes when something goes wrong, as well as the Government taking actual action, which will involve a high cost to rectify. 

Ms Backhouse finished, “Given the profit nature of the aged care sector, it is fundamental that regulation be introduced to prevent a budget focussed culture which overrides the basic care needs of residents.

“Growing old should be a dignified experience where self respect can be maintained...The current situation is heartbreaking at best, criminal at worst. When we look back in years to come... this will be our country's greatest shame.”

Extra evidence will be heard tomorrow, 12 July in Darwin.

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