REAL AUSTRALIA

When there's no dignity, what's left?

Voice of Real Australia is a regular newsletter from Australian Community Media, which has journalists in every state and territory. Sign up here to get it by email, or here to forward it to a friend. Today's newsletter is written by ACM digital news editor Janine Graham.

Undignified: Our age care system has been labelled "unkind and uncaring towards older people". Photo: Shutterstock

Undignified: Our age care system has been labelled "unkind and uncaring towards older people". Photo: Shutterstock

It's damning. It's utterly shameful. And it is something that will touch regional Australia significantly.

Underpayment to thousands of salaried staff? Well, yes but no.

Thousands of people queuing to heave themselves up a spiritual monolith with complete disregard for the traditional owners? Umm, yes but no.

But rather a report - from the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.

The verdict was the nation's aged care system wasn't just poor or unsatisfactory but it is "unkind and uncaring towards older people and, in too many instances, it neglects them".

Oh, and it's underfunded, too.

Commissioners Richard Tracey and Lynelle Briggs wrote in the interim report that aged care here in the 21stcentury "is a sad and shocking system that diminishes Australia as a nation".

James Nutt knows all about it. He's lived it, As a 21-year-old.

He was left a paraplegic with an acquired brain injury after being bashed as a 19-year-old.

Back in 2015 Mr Nutt spoke to the Newcastle Herald about the isolation and depression he was forced to confront as a young man living in an aged care facility.

James Nutt: Has addressed a Senate Committee in 2015 (inset) and now a Royal Commission about younger people living in residential aged care - as he did. The talkfests were four years apart.

James Nutt: Has addressed a Senate Committee in 2015 (inset) and now a Royal Commission about younger people living in residential aged care - as he did. The talkfests were four years apart.

The penultimate paragraph read: "Mr Nutt recently made a submission to a Senate inquiry looking into young people living in aged-care facilities in Australia."

Four years - and no doubt many words and shelf-filling reports - later, Mr Nutt addressed this particular royal commission. His message was the same: "Younger people shouldn't be in aged care facilities."

That Senate Committee recommended the Australian government compile a database of people under 65 living in residential aged care so their needs could be better understood. The federal government "noted" this but did not accept the recommendation.

And that's why this paragraph in the 2019 report is all the more galling: "The failure to develop a proper understanding of the circumstances and needs of younger people in residential aged care, together with the continued entry of younger people ... at undiminished rates, indicates a lack of sufficient interest by the Government in the plight of these people and a level of complacency about the capacity of existing policy settings to solve the problem."

Thirroul "carer" Alicia Gawronski. Photo: Sylvia Liber

Thirroul "carer" Alicia Gawronski. Photo: Sylvia Liber

In an inescapable irony, on the day the 2019 report was released, Alicia Gawronski appeared in court.

The 26-year-old from Thirroul, near Wollongong, was the carer of a frail, 81-year-old dementia patient. Yesterday she was found guilty of assaulting Gladys Buchanan.

The details are unquestionably hideous. You can read them here, but maybe not. Just trust the magistrate who labelled Gawronski "delusional" for believing the verbal and physical abuse she inflicted was normal behaviour.

The court heard a recording of Ms Buchanan's mistreatment. And, as if the depths of tragedy couldn't be plumbed further, the carer can be heard threatening to send her elderly patient to a nursing home. Enough said.

The matter's not over. Gawronski will be sentenced on December 20. The same goes for the royal commission. It will hand down a final report in November 2020.

Let's hope the systemic change begins before then.

Janine Graham

ACM digital news editor

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