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ROYAL COMMISSION: Funding for carer support essential

The second day of the Mildura Hearings for the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety heard from two people involved with a rural carer program and the importance of information and education availability.

​The Commission heard from Donald Laity, Mildura Carers Hub, and Bonney Dietrich, Mildura Carer Blueprint, and their efforts to keep a carer support hub in Mildura.[Source: Aged Care Royal Commission]
​The Commission heard from Donald Laity, Mildura Carers Hub, and Bonney Dietrich, Mildura Carer Blueprint, and their efforts to keep a carer support hub in Mildura.[Source: Aged Care Royal Commission]

The Commission also heard direct evidence from a young carer’s loss of lifestyle and development of carer fatigue as a result of her caring duties.

Taking to the stand was Donald Geoffrey Laity from the Steering Group at the Mildura Carers Hub in Victoria, and Bonney Heather Dietrich, the Project Coordinator at Mildura Carer Blueprint and Carers Victoria.

The pair have both experienced the struggles of being a carer and the role's often devastating, emotional toll.

Also taking to the stand today was Nicole Louise Dunn, a young medical professional in her 30’s who took on the role of carer for her grandmother.

She explained the loss of lifestyle, career impact, isolation, and extreme stress she felt as a young carer.

Carers Hub a vital resource in rural Australia

Both Mr Laity and Ms Dietrich are heavily involved with the Mildura Carers Hub, but can only continue to provide services if their funding is assured by Government.

Carers Victoria, an organisation supporting Victorian carers, funded the program for two years in hopes to fill a gap they identified in the Mildura region.

The Hub was a central spot for carers to go to if they need someone to talk to or to get information. Additionally, the venue was used by other groups to come together for support, like carer groups.

There is a demand for the facility in Mildura, which Mr Laity says justifies its existence, however, the funding only allows the Hub services to be available one day a week.

The funding ran out in June, however, the Government is providing $20,000 to keep the Hub running until the end of the year.

Mr Laity says if they had the funding, they would love for the Hub to be open five days a week with added services and pop up Hubs established in outlying areas, but believes this is all restricted by funding.

Since Ms Dietrich works at the Hub as one of the few employed staff, she says there is an obvious relief in people once they vent to someone who understands the struggles of being a carer.

“They need to talk to somebody that understands, will not judge them... How they're feeling, how they're tired, and it’s normal,” says Ms Dietrich.

Mr Laity says the Hub needs to continue and is vital to the wellbeing of carers in the Mildura area.

He wants the service to remain so people feel like they have a place to turn to when life gets tough.

“Stress has a huge emotional cost to the carer. It builds up and very quietly drags the carer down. They go through a stress of grief, a sense of loss, frustration, and even failure at recognising their inability to achieve anything for the person that they’re caring for, that they can’t cure or restore the health or the normality of the person for whom they are caring” says Mr Laity.

"And this in itself is a huge frustration and a huge source of stress for the carer when they see so much work being put in and so little frequently achieved as a result of that work."

Ms Dietrich agrees, saying the isolation and exhaustion she felt while taking care of her mother would sometimes bring her to tears.

“You want to cry, there are days where you just feel so tired. I know that when mum does die, I would be devastated but there's some days where you just go, “I don’t want to do this anymore, I just want to stay home,” says Ms Dietrich.

“A lot of people do the caring role without realising that they are the carer. They're just the daughter or the mother or the sister or the brother. You just do it because that’s family.” 

Ms Dietrich finds that people cope with their problems in a different way, and if there is no outlet, it can lead to relationship breakdowns, anger and frustration.

While she believes there are benefits of being a carer and doing something for the people you love, it is equally important to make sure the person providing care has an outlet for themselves to get by.

Young carers lose their way of life

Ms Dunn from Melbourne, Victoria, was the youngest carer to stand before the Commissioners as she explained her personal experience moving in with her terminally ill grandmother after a pancreatic cancer diagnosis.

She made the suggestion to family to move in and be her grandmother’s carer due to her healthcare background and knowledge of support avenues.

Over her grandmother’s care, Ms Dunn organised everything, from paperwork to contacting providers, and never seemed to get much of a break.

"There’s quite a lot of stress that can be associated with being a carer and then I guess you may be coming to work not completely your fresh self. I think there can be a lot of carer fatigue and working in health care I’ve then got to be in a work situation where I keep needing to give more of myself to the patients that I also treat. So there’s a lot of fatigue in that regard,” says Ms Dunn.

“Socially, [things] changed a lot. I'm probably at an age where what my friends were doing was quite different to myself, in that they had a lot of freedom and could socialise quite regularly whenever they wanted. A lot of that stopped for me. 

“My caring responsibility came first, that was more important. I couldn’t see it another way… What was important to me was providing care for someone else, particularly because I knew the time I had to do that would be limited. So I didn’t consider my own life choices. So it meant that if my social life was to be impacted, so be it. If work was impacted, so be it. Even if my own health was impacted, so be it."

Through her whole carer journey, Ms Dunn says she was fortunate to have a background in healthcare, otherwise, she would have never been able to accomplish what she did.

Despite this, being a carer was a struggle for Ms Dunn, but she says she would never trade that experience for anything else.

"It really brought my grandmother and I closer together in terms of our relationship, just the silly little things you do day to day that you get to see and you get to experience in caring for someone, and that’s something I look back and I treasure. I’m really proud of being a carer for her, and it’s given me a different outlook on life, so I really appreciate the little things in life," says Ms Dunn.

"I find it really important now to give back as a carer, given I’ve been through this journey and have come out on the other side of it... After my grandmother passed away, I did make a choice that I would also like to do my own consulting work. I’ve dedicated that work to her... I absolutely love it. I feel that I’m absolutely a better clinician from being a carer. 

"I find the aged care system to be very reactive in a sense. We wait for someone to be unwell. We wait for someone to end up in a hospital. And then someone comes along and says, "have you thought about aged care and what help is out there?"

"I just feel it really needs to be flipped on its head. The one constant in everything is that we are all ageing, so if we know we are all ageing, why aren’t we having these discussions about aged care and how the system works before people need it? I think we need to be more proactive in the way we respond to aged care."

The next hearing will take place tomorrow on 31 July in Mildura, Victoria.

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