It’s early morning and Ernie Poloni is lying in his nursing home bed. Two carers enter his room, unaware that the digital clock on the table holds a hidden camera.
Ernie’s family has put it in his room at Bupa in Templestowe, Melbourne to find out why his pyjamas are regularly torn.
The younger staff member’s face comes full into view as she puts her phone into the dock. Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You starts playing. She turns the volume up.
Ernie has advanced dementia and cannot speak or walk. However, the 85-year-old can hear. Despite this, neither staff acknowledges him. No one says “good morning” or tells him it’s time for a shower.
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Instead, as the music plays loudly they stand on either side of his bed, talking to each other as they remove his pyjamas.
The older carer pulls roughly at Ernie’s head several times. The other yanks at his left arm trying to get it out of the sleeve of his pyjamas.
Over the next five minutes they roll him quickly and without warning a dozen times to get his pyjamas off and place him into a sling.
Throughout it all Ernie’s body is rigid. He has a look of fear on his face and he often grabs hold of the carers’ wrists.
The older staff member leans in close to speak to him for the first time.
“What is this Ernie, early in the morning?” she says.
“We should stop giving you a shower then.”
I’ve lost count of the number of hidden camera videos from nursing homes I’ve watched over the past 18 months as part of our aged care crowdsourced investigation.
There has been the horrific, outright physical and psychological abuse dished out by carers resulting in assault convictions like the case at a Sydney facility owned by Estia.
There are the videos where assault charges have not been proven, instead being deemed “reasonable force”.
And then there’s garden variety neglect and “rough handling” like Ernie Poloni at Bupa and Luigi Cantali at Sydney’s Carino Care. They don’t warrant sending to the police, but they are disturbing in their own right.
Two big problems to assess
Understaffing and the lack of training in aged care goes under the microscope at the royal commission next week when it turns its attention to the workforce.
Staff wages reportedly account for about 70 per cent of nursing home costs, but with no staff-to-resident ratios, providers are accused of running understaffed homes to keep surpluses up.
That theory seems to have been proven with a new study released ahead of Monday’s hearings showing more than half of Australia’s residential aged care facilities have unacceptably low numbers of staff.
Poor staffing is one of the main reasons cited for the widespread neglect the commission has already heard about.
Training is the other issue blamed for poor care. About 80 per cent of the workforce are personal care workers who can be paid as little as $18 an hour — the same rate paid for packing supermarket shelves.
There is no standardised training for them, with courses dished out by dozens of organisations varying in duration and quality from as little as six weeks’ online to 12 months at TAFE — despite an estimated 70 per cent of residents having some form of dementia.
Improved training and whether to impose staff-to-resident ratios are two of the most vexed issues the royal commission will need to rule on.
Change will prove expensive
And it’s not just the industry worried that it will recommend minimum staffing.
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The Federal Government knows if that happens it will have to dramatically increase its funding from its already hefty $18 billion per year.
Adding to the pressure is the fact that we need three times as many aged care staff — almost one million — in the next 30 years to deal with our ageing population.
In order to attract staff to the sector, wages will have to increase and training will need to improve.
That, too, is a large and extra cost the Government and the industry never banked on.
But if the hidden camera footage which has hit our screens in recent years is any indication, some drastic measures are required to ensure the protection of the elderly now and in the future.