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ROYAL COMMISSION: Waiting list frustration, more support needed for workers

Kaye Warrener’s husband of 56 years, Leslie, has been waiting for a home care package at his assessed level for 450 days and counting.

Kaye Warrener’s husband Leslie, has been waiting for a home care package at his assessed level for over 450 days [Source: Shutterstock]
Kaye Warrener’s husband Leslie, has been waiting for a home care package at his assessed level for over 450 days [Source: Shutterstock]

Giving evidence at the Royal Commission earlier this month, Mrs Warrener says her husband was assessed for a level three home care package in November 2017.

After welcome home modifications were made through the Commonwealth Home Support Programme in late 2016, Mrs Warrener soon realised her husband would need more support.

“Because of his health deterioration and things that I was doing for Les, at that stage I knew I had to go into hospital and so I rang to see what other assistance we might be able to get while I was in hospital,” she says.

Mr Warrener has a range of health issues, with his biggest need being a chair that would allow him to sleep with his feet elevated following a quadruple bypass in 2008.

"We got him a pouf thing but that's a danger and he's already had a fall," she says.

Shortly after his assessment, Mr Warrener received a letter saying support was around three months away.

“It made us very hopeful that the package was coming through... It made us very happy at the time and very thankful and so we just sat back and waiting to see – expecting that a package would be following very, very shortly,” Mrs Warrener says.

However, the couple received a letter in February this year saying Mr Warrener would only be able to access a level two package.

“It indicates in the letter......not the package that you were assigned but this will help get you started for some of the services.”

They are still waiting for the level three package.

Mrs Warrener says it’s hard to watch a loved one’s health deteriorate and feels they’ve become a “commodity for people to make money on in certain areas”.

"This is where my frustration comes in, when you ring the (My Aged Care) contact centre, they can't give you a date," Mrs Warrener says.

"This is where you're given false hope because you cannot find out exactly what's happening - it's very frustrating.”

Mrs Warrener also told the Commission that another family member has been in aged care for the past six years. While hesitant to enter the aged care system at first, Mrs Warrener says she’s seen the possibility for positive change.

“In the very first instance when I was visiting this aged care centre, the first thing that came to me was the smell in this place. I thought, ‘No aged care’,” she says.

“But over the last couple of years this aged care centre here in South Australia has changed hands. The gardens have been beautified; the whole place has been changed and painted and everything. When I walk in, is totally different to when I first did – so there are abilities for people to do better things.”

“There’s a tsunami off the coast and it’s coming in”

"The morality of this country needs to be tested at this point in time," Health Services Union National resident Gerard Hayes told the Commission on Thursday.

“I think this Royal Commission is going to see some staggering things that will come out because people just haven’t shone a light on it.”

When asked why the pay of aged care workers compares “unfavourably to other sectors”, Mr Hayes says it’s a case of being “out of sight, out of mind”.

“Is it good enough to say that the people who went through the war years of the thirties and the forties and the consequent years of rebuilding this country...we don’t notice them every day so it must be okay.”

He says aged care work isn’t just a “clock-on clock-off” job.

“Not many of us go to work every day knowing that somebody who has been a friend of theirs for the last year or two years is going to die today...tomorrow...next month ...next year, because that’s what happens to these people,” he says.  

“This is a job where people want to look after individuals who become – not residents, they don’t become some kind of client; they become friends.”

Mr Hayes says it’s common for one worker to be caring for 25 residents during a night shift, five of which want to go to the bathroom at the same time.

He says at the moment, an ambulance has to be called if there is a medical emergency, as there’s often no registered nurse on night duty.

"(Residents) must go through the indignity of soiling their beds," he says.

“People are suffering every day at a whole range of different levels. And, again, it’s not the individuals who are creating this; it’s the system that’s promoting it.”

Mr Hayes says there is a “tsunami” headed for the aged care sector, citing a lack of funding and transparency across the sector.

"There's a lack of funding to deal with the aged care matter as we see it today, let alone the aged care matter we see in the next 10 to 15 years,” he says.

“Irrespective of if it’s a resource issue, it’s an issue of lack of transparency, it’s a funding issue; it is always the resident who will suffer at the end of the day.”

Experiences shed light on frustrations

Another recipient of home care, Margot Harker from Canberra, said there were times when promised carers didn’t turn up.

“There’s a sense in which we feel the Australian population doesn’t think that we deserve quite as much and it’s a bit sort of icing on the cake,” Dr Harker says.

"There is no sense of us having served our community or our nation during your working life of 40 years.”

86-year-old Barrie Anderson who cares for his wife Grace, who has advanced dementia and lives in a nearby residential facility, also shared his experiences.

“Fundamentally as a carer you actually have to acknowledge that there are going to be some changes in your life,” he says.

“So you actually have to get used to the idea that it’s an environment where change is likely to happen...you need to be able to sort of not get angry.”

The Royal Commission hearings continue today before recommencing on 18 March.

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