Aged care advocates say fear of reprisals keeping stories hidden


July 12, 2019 11:54:58

Prominent NT disability services advocate Robyne Burridge put in a written submission to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety about her husband Ron’s experiences in a Darwin nursing home.

Key Points:

  • Allegations of understaffing and overlooked injuries at Darwin facility
  • Hospital found woman’s husband was on the wrong insulin
  • NT Council on the Aging chief executive says people are afraid of reprisals

She was disappointed she didn’t have the chance to present to the Commission in person after its officials told her she was too late to be included in the schedule of Darwin sittings this week.

They were married for 45 years before he went into Darwin’s Pearl Supported Care nursing home in 2017 after a stroke, and with dementia.

Disabled with cerebral palsy herself, there was no way she could continue to care for him at home.

“Ron was totally supportive, he believed I could do anything. I was invincible in Ron’s eyes,” she said.

Allegations injuries went unnoticed

In her submission she told the Commission her husband was hurt while being lifted incorrectly with a sling hoist, and that eye and hip injuries went un-noticed by staff until she pointed them out herself.

“They’re obviously very, very understaffed. For the owners of this nursing home, it is all about money,” she said.

The not-for-profit organisation which owns Pearl, Southern Cross Care, didn’t respond directly to Mrs Burridge’s allegations, but told the ABC they had “high staffing levels at Pearl Supported Care … we also have registered nurses on every shift.”

“All of Southern Cross Care’s homes … exist for the benefit of residents and clients, not to generate profits.”

The facility refused to allow rails to be put up on Mr Burridge’s bed at night.

“We couldn’t get that, because it was a policy, and that’s why he had several falls out of bed,” Mrs Burridge said.

Southern Cross Care said they promoted a restraint-free environment.

“This applies to all forms of restraint including bed rails,” a spokesperson said.

‘I don’t know why we don’t introduce euthanasia’

In 2018 Mr Burridge’s condition deteriorated and he was admitted to the Royal Darwin Hospital in December.

Mrs Burridge said when doctors examined her husband they found his general hygiene was poor.

“His diabetes was out of control. He was on the wrong insulin.”

She decided her husband shouldn’t go back to Pearl, and he died in hospital four months later while he was on a waiting list for another nursing home.

“I beat myself up thinking, why didn’t I get him out of there? But there were no other places. We were waiting for an alternative placement,” Mrs Burridge said.

She said she was saddened about how her husband’s life had ended.

“To have to put him in a nursing home, and for him to have the treatment that I saw. Well I don’t know why we don’t introduce euthanasia, quite frankly,” she said.

Mrs Burridge said she wanted to avoid having to go into residential care herself.

She said other Northern Territory residents had told her similar stories about their loved ones in care facilities, but didn’t want to reveal them publicly.

“Other people fear speaking out because that might be detrimental to their loved ones,” she said.

‘Fear of reprisals’

NT Council on the Aging chief executive Sue Shearer said she was disappointed that the Commission had only probed a few Northern Territory cases.

“A lot of people are very afraid of reprisals. There hasn’t been really any emphasis on protection for these witnesses,” she said.

“They’re in aged care facilities, and I know a lot of their children, but they’re just too frightened and will only be a witness or put this information when their parent or loved one has passed away.

“Because really there’s no choice to take them anywhere else.

“And the Royal Commission, while they will deliver their findings at the end of the year, and some of them might be implemented in another year, where’s the protection for these people in the actual aged care homes?”

Ms Shearer said her organisation had received some complaints about cases in aged care facilities in the Territory, but most were about people receiving Federal Government funded assistance in their homes.

“We have had some horrific instances of this, and that’s why we are really calling on the Royal Commission to make a recommendation that there has to be spot checks on people receiving aged care in their home,” she said.

“And then they can actually see these people who are actually living in squalor, when they are supposed to be receiving cleaning services, for example.”








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