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The past, present and future of aged care according to a community advocate

When it comes to aged care in Australia, we are inundated by new inquiries, initiatives, promises and plans from our nation’s leaders, but more often than not, we fail to hear from those on the front line of aged care.

Community advocate Maria Berry addressing the 5th National Elder Abuse Conference (Source: Kelly Statham Twitter)
Community advocate Maria Berry addressing the 5th National Elder Abuse Conference (Source: Kelly Statham Twitter)

Grassroots and independent advocates of aged care, like Victoria’s Maria Berry, are just some of the everyday people using their own experiences and knowledge to push for change, improvement and support for a growing industry that is looking after our ageing loved ones.

Like many Australians, Ms Berry has experienced life as a carer for both her ageing parents, but she has also experienced what life is like as an aged care worker having spent more than 15 years as a nurse in acute residential and community care.

From her experience grew her passion to advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves, and her desire to be a driver of change in what she calls an aged care “tsunami”.

“We are in a tsunami and it is going to get worse before it gets better,” Ms Berry explains.

“We have reached the point that the demand for services, residential care places, community care, is already higher than what we are going to be able to deliver or sustain as our ageing population continues to soar.”

Ms Berry makes note of a number of other issues, ranging from lack of staffing and the lack of real focus on person centred care, right through to greater community and industry education and the need to address the “gaps”.

“People are remaining at home longer and then entering residential care facilities with much more complex and chronic conditions,” she explains.

“This is an issue because we are not equipping or supporting staff with the skills to deliver the level of care required, not to mention that we can’t provide the staffing or attract people to the industry.

“Aged care is not seen as ‘sexy’ or the way to go with a career future… we are becoming desperate in our avenues to resource staff that we really need to look at our screening process.

“We also need to upskill staff, provide support and affordable training to enable them to step up the chain and pay accordingly.

“There is also a definite gap with older people in our communities waiting for services and support and just being at crisis point with nowhere to turn.

“Services need to be affordable, accessible and available at the time because carers too are under duress with no support there for them either - a lot are at breaking point.”

With so many ongoing and very real issues impacting so many, Ms Berry has her own suggestions which, as an aged care advocate, she is bringing to the forefront at public forums, national conferences and shares with community groups and politicians.

“None of this is a five minute fix, and it is going to take a lot of hard work, education, awareness, partnerships of everyone all working together, with immediate and long term planning to find solutions,” she explains.

“We need a national campaign which includes awareness and education, particularly around valuing older people and the prevention of elder abuse.

“This needs to include the value of all older people in our communities, not as the burden currently depicted and this message needs to be everyone’s responsibility.

“I believe that there needs to be more emphasis on education and reconnection programs.

“It starts with our kids changing the attitudes towards older people and to take the fear and stigma away from ageing.

“I see there being a reliance on more community involvement and participation.

“We need more age friendly communities - communities that are actively including older people to prevent isolation, and offering community incentives for it while promoting reconnection programs for our kids and older people.”

Despite acknowledging the great need for change, improvement and innovation in the aged care sector and knowing there’s a long journey ahead, Ms Berry says she will continue to be an independent community advocate for older Australians, carers and the workforce.

“I’m here advocating at a grassroots level, trying to be a voice for all older people and carers, turning my own lived experiences around in a positive way to improve, educate, bring awareness, create change for all older people,” she explains.

“We have a long way to go and lots of work to do but it is something that needs to be done - our older and ageing population deserves the very best.”

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