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ROYAL COMMISSION: Dismissive over abuse allegations and systemic impunity

The second day of the Perth hearings for the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety continued on from yesterday’s case study examining the abusive care received by an 89-year-old resident in the Mitcham Aged Care Home in Adelaide.

Japara CEO and Managing Director, Mr Mark Andrew Sudholz, was unconcerned by the 300 reports of alleged assaults over four and a half years. [Source: Aged Care Royal Commission]
Japara CEO and Managing Director, Mr Mark Andrew Sudholz, was unconcerned by the 300 reports of alleged assaults over four and a half years. [Source: Aged Care Royal Commission]

Today, the Commission examined further into Japara Healthcare Limited’s management of resident Mr Clarence Hausler’s treatment as well as to determine if this was only one instance or an overall cultural issue within the organisation.

Senior Counsel Assisting Peter C Rozen QC previously stated during his opening address yesterday that there were nearly 300 reported serious assaults between September 2015 and May 2019 on Japara residents across their portfolio of homes.

However, that claim was refuted by Mark Andrew Sudholz, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Managing Director of Japara, today when he gave evidence. He says the number of “founded” abuse allegations were a lot less.

“In this schedule that we have, it’s a schedule of allegations of suspected abuse... You had stated that there, it’s 298 abuse issues or allegations...In that process, you look through the allegation and the suspicion around that, it is quite often that it is unfounded, you know? So it isn’t abuse at all. It’s just an allegation and it becomes unfounded, and we go through that in detail,” says Mr Sudholz.

“Across the 49 facilities and around 4,000 residents, the allegation of abuse that comes to substantiate it, and then we deal with, is less than 100 over four and a half years. I don’t believe that is systematic at all.”

Mr Rozen said the main reason they are bringing up Japara’s documentation is to search for systemic problems of abuse in nursing homes and the documents provided seem to show a trend of particular carers subject to multiple allegations.

In regards to Mr Hausler’s instance, there were two incidents that were not investigated, which Mr Rozen proposed allowed for the third abusive event to occur.

Mr Rozen also brought up many other examples in Japara’s records and pointed out cases were the same staff members had been accused of different abusive behaviour or of “rough handling”, including right up to April of this year.

A culture of impunity for staff was suggested by Mr Rozen, but Mr Sudholz didn’t agree with his assertion.

Mr Sudholz says excluding the situation with Mr Hausler, a majority of residents were pleased with the care they had received from Japara staff at the Mitcham site.

The Commission also looked over 2016 emails from Mr Sudholz to the Japara board and his use of wording directed at Ms Noleen Hausler, daughter of Mr Hausler.

Within the contents, Mr Sudholz referred to Ms Hausler as “vexatious” for her efforts in improving quality of care provided to her father, which he wanted to clear up the context behind his wording.

Mr Sudholz says, “I believe I have described her – a circumstance that I went through resulted in me saying to the – writing an email that said that it was vexatious... It was around mid-2016 that I attended a facility manager meeting... We had a 40 resident and relative meeting that I was attending. 

"And in that meeting there were a number of people who were very abusive, very aggressive towards me, shouted me down, and showed little respect to me as the CEO of a big organisation. And I found that disappointing, and I was quite distraught about that."

The email sent to board members of Japara was read out by Mr Rozen, “Hi all, you will be pleased to hear that we have achieved 100 percent occupancy at Mitcham (aged care facility) ACF for the first time ever despite the ongoing complaints and vexatious approach by Noleen Hausler and her activist group.”

At the end of Mr Sudholz’s testimony, Commissioner Ms Lynelle Briggs AO said she was disturbed by the evidence she had heard over the course of the last two days and had an issue with the defensiveness of the Japara organisation in taking responsibility for instances of substandard care.

At the end of his court appearance, Mr Sudholz repeated his apology and regret to Ms Hausler over her experience, saying, nearly in tears, he was “disappointed we let you down”.

Hearings will continue tomorrow, Wednesday, June 26, at 9.30am AWST in Perth, WA.

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