Horror aged care homes: Shocking acts of abuse
More than 100 vulnerable elderly Australians are being raped, assaulted and even murdered in residential aged care facilities every week. But a News Corp Aged Care 360 investigation can reveal the real number of victims could be as much as 10 times higher.
The federal health department received 5233 notifications of assaults that occurred in aged care homes last year - a 30 per cent increase on the previous year. It included 739 cases of unlawful sexual contact.
But many assaults go unreported and by law aged care homes don't have to report them if they are carried out by someone with dementia.
In a report for the Federal Government, accounting and auditing firm KPMG estimated the real rate of these incidents was ten times higher with unreported incidents at 52,000 per year.
News Corp Australia this week launched Aged Care 360 - a special investigation bringing experts, those on the frontline and the families of those in aged care - together to dissect the sorry mess and offer solutions.
Monash University's Head of Health Law and Ageing Research Unit Professor Joseph Ibrahim - who is a member of News Corp's Aged Care 360 panel - trawled Victoria's coroner's data to uncover a string of 28 deaths where people with dementia in facilities became confused and argued with each other - and someone ended up dead.
"Some people were classifying these as homicides but we don't believe there is intent behind this," Professor Ibrahim said.
Other research he was involved in explored how police and aged care homes failed to take action when elderly women in aged care facilities were sexually abused.
"I'm ashamed I was really slow to pick up on the concept that sexual abuse was occurring to older women … older women aren't listened to," Professor Ibrahim told Aged Care 360.
Rapes and murders are not the only problems.
An aged care nurse told News Corp residents in her facility had maggots in their wounds, their incontinence pads were rationed to three per day and some residents aren't showered regularly.
Even pain medication is rationed with nurses told to ignore the doctor's prescription and offer heat packs instead.
One in three aged care residents are zoned out on antipsychotics a form of chemical restraint a study by Macquarie University's Dr Kimberley Lind found.
And many are physically restrained in chairs using straps or feeding trays.
Aged Care Crisis said "over the years, aged care residents in nursing homes have been raped, robbed, bathed in kerosene, attacked by rodents, suffered injuries or death from other residents, burnt to death, strangled, cooked, melted, sedated to death, overmedicated or choked to death".
"We have also seen stories of overgrown nails, untreated infections, medication mix-ups, and research showing up to 80 per cent of aged care residents are malnourished and reports of dehydration," the group told a parliamentary inquiry.
In 2018-19, the health department issued 55 sanctions on 36 aged care providers due to failure to meet quality standards. On 30 June 2019, 25 of the 55 sanctions remained in place but the agency cancelled no-notice inspections in February this year due to COVID-19.
Pain Australia CEO Carol Bennett - who is a also member of News Corp's Aged Care 360 panel - quit the government's Aged Care Quality Advisory Council because it was ineffective.
"I joined the council, thinking that the council and the role of the quality agency at the time was all about quality and improving the services that are available to older and Australians. In fact what I found was that the focus was not about quality at all it just really fell short of the mark," she told Aged Care 360.
At the time she was on the council and despite being politically connected she was unable to prevent her own mother dying in pain in a nursing home.
"On the particular night I recall we waited up to five hours for her to get pain management in the last days of her life," she told Aged Care 360.
"The facility was just unable to administer those medications because the RN wasn't available, other people who'd had falls who had the flu who had bugs, there was so many people that, they were covering, and you had to have two people administer the medication, and it simply wasn't possible," she said.
Aged Care 360 panel member Anthony Bowe whose mother Patrica Shea resides in Newmarch House - the home crippled by a COVID-19 outbreak earlier this year that claimed the lives of 19 residents - said 50 per cent of those infected with the virus died and residents were not given the same care they would have received in hospital.
"The coroner's van would be there more days than it wasn't," he said.
PROFOUNDLY UNSAFE AND DANGEROUS'
One nursing home was so understaffed it was forced to call paramedics in the middle of the night to help with a resident's catheter as there was no night nurse on duty.
That is just one scandal uncovered by News Corp Australia's Aged Care 360 panel which yesterday brought together industry experts and families of those impacted by the crisis in aged care.
Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation federal secretary Annie Butler told Aged Care 360 said the nursing home calling in paramedics was just one example of severe understaffing in the sector.
"There was no registered nurse on the nightshift at all, they (paramedics) were called out to deal with a problem that could have been very easily dealt with by a registered nurse," Ms Butler said.
She said extreme understaffing that sometimes saw one registered nurse caring for 150 patents or no nurse at all was "profoundly unsafe and dangerous".
Anthony Bowe whose mother Patricia Shea caught COVID-19 in the Newmarch House nursing home in Sydney's west said severe understaffing meant "a lot of people in the facility died of malnutrition, dehydration, fatigue well before COVID could kill them".
"The aged care Minister came out and said they would get the same care as on a hospital ward but it was the polar opposite," Mr Bowe told Aged Care 360.
"There wasn't enough staff, they didn't have the equipment, the facilities the same as you would getting a hospital ward, there's no IV antibiotics, no IV fluids, no X-rays and doctors don't do weekends.
Centre for International Corporate Tax Accountability and Research consultant Jason Ward told the show aged care had become a market based privatised approach "and it's not clear that that's producing results".
"If we want to get results we have to mandate transparency and we have to know that that money is being spent on care, and we know for now that lots of that money is not being spent on care it's being spent on executive compensation," he said.