Natasha Chadwick, the CEO of NewDirection Care, and a leading advocate for change in the aged care industry, speaks out about the needs of our aged care residents in the wake of Victoria’s second wave coronavirus outbreak.
“Older people who live in the aged care sector and the people who work in the aged care sector are not being treated as equals in Australia’s approach to the COVID-19 pandemic. And, quite frankly, it is a genuine tragedy.
You would have thought that our government, our community – you, me everyone in our broader community – might have recognised long before the unfolding situation in Victoria that handling the outbreak of coronavirus in aged care facilities requires careful consideration and planned action.
You only need to look at the overseas experience to realise that. Globally, significant numbers of people have died and yet we seem to have sat back in relation to our aged care facilities here and thought, ‘She’ll be right, mate.’
And, of course, as we can all clearly see, it is not all right. The mistake in the approaches overseas was that many countries seemed to be going for herd immunity, but the truth is that herd immunity is a distinct choice between your younger population and the welfare of your older population. That is not a choice that we should be making, particularly when it is younger people that are providing the care and support for older people and therefore potentially placing the older or more vulnerable person at risk.
Older lives are just as valuable as younger lives. Our communities are not made up of just a single age group. Our communities are made up of all of us, old and young together and that is what gives our community their texture and depth and character.
At the heart of this issue, are several underlying factors. One of them, unfortunately, is cost and the problem of who pays for the care, but perhaps the greater problems stem from the fact that the broader part of the Australian community doesn’t understand what aged care is or who goes into aged care or what their requirements are.
There are so many different people who require aged care, it is a real a mixed bag if you like. It might be someone quite young but who is living with a dementia diagnosis. You may have a stronger more robust person living with other more frail residents who are in aged care because they were the only one in their home as they became older and frailer; or perhaps they have had a stroke or have a multitude of diagnosis such as diabetes, heart conditions, mental health issues such as depression and need to be in care because they cannot be fully supported to live at home, or require palliative and end of life care. The care needs of people living in residential aged care are complex and diverse.
As an aged care provider, you may be dealing with a wide range of health and support needs within your residential community including the needs of family and friends as the person in care declines.
I just do not think that people get that aged care has such diverse requirements, and as a result needs a diverse set of skills in response. Aged care in Australia as an industry is not funded appropriately and consequently the industry generally does not have the right skill set and is often not staffed appropriately either.
That really comes back to the community and the broader will to create a better quality aged care system in Australia. People must stop bashing aged care providers and aged care staff. The truth is that we have the aged care system that we, as a community, created. It is as simple as that.
It is easy to say that outcomes are not acceptable, but the true test of community resolve is doing something about it and making change happen. That is the real issue here. It is easy to criticise, but right now those aged care providers and those aged care staff need the support of their community.
They do not need to be bashed in the media every single day for something that is ultimately beyond their control. Their main role should be in caring for the people living in residential aged care, making sure they receive appropriate meals, personal and health care and cleaning services, they do not have the resources to be communicating with all the different regulators and there are many as well as numerous family members and friends, this is an area where aged care providers and staff really do need the support of administrators and public health officials, particularly when you consider that in the majority of residential aged care facilities the manager is often the only or one of a few staff that are not providing hands on care.
If the virus is abroad in the community then someone only has to go to a shopping mall or to a restaurant and then visit their relative in an aged care facility to bring it in. That is how easy it is, and you can have all the systems in place that you like but that is exceedingly difficult to stop. You need the systems and an element of luck if you are to stop it, while still enabling visiting and normal life activities to occur.
That is why it is up to all of us within the community to take responsibility for our actions during this crisis. It is up to us all to take all the precautions we need to ensure the safety of those around us.
For example, let’s talk about those young ladies who crossed into Queensland after being in Victoria. I was livid after hearing that. How irresponsible of them, particularly when it is alleged they have been incredibly deceitful by attempting to cover their tracks.
It is up to all of us to make sure that we minimise the possibility of this spreading, and not take unnecessary or selfish risks. We all have a duty to each other in this crisis. And we all need to shoulder that responsibility which is what being part of a community is about. We have all heard time and again that we are all in this together. It is true, and it has never been truer than right now.”