Last night’s Four Corners investigation into the Australian aged care industry exposed a truly shattering reality. Care workers recounted story after story of torment and inhumanity, with the ABC claiming it received thousands of other reports in the lead up to the inquiry.
Inadequate sanitary products, meals that made them gag, improper administering of medication, and woeful daily hygiene were just some of the situations that carers and industry personnel reported as common inside some of Australia’s largest aged care facilities.
Each revelation was more shocking than the last. And as I sat there sick to my stomach, tears rolling down my face, I wondered how we came to this point?
Until she slipped away two weeks ago, my own grandmother lived in an aged care facility in Sydney. Diagnosed with early dementia two years ago, and having broken her knee early last year, the family decided it was the best place for her to be to receive 24-hour round the clock care.
And from what I observed, the nurses and care staff did just that. They were phenomenal. They went above and beyond to ensure my grandmother was comfortable; soothing her dry skin with lotion, bringing her regular lemonade and tea as requested and chatting freely with her as they fed her meals.
Leaving my grandmother after each visit became a wrench, but it was made easier knowing she was in a place with quality care. After an 87-year life, entirely dedicated to looking after others, I was glad she was getting the same.
Because of course, that’s the point that needs to be remembered with elderly people. They’re not drains on the economy, they’re our history. They are the reason why we all exist and we damn well owe them.
As Aged care consultant, Tony Northcote said in last night’s Four Corners episode: “These people, they’re all someone’s mum, someone’s dad, someone’s brother, someone’s sister and they’re just forgotten.” We should be ashamed of ourselves.
My grandmother, (or as we knew her, Ba) was a dynamic, proud, fiery, generous, intelligent, and loving woman. She lived through war in Malaysia, university in London, a wedding in Glasgow, parties in Singapore and family in Sydney.
She could recite Shakespeare backwards, paint incredible artworks and cook the most elaborate feasts. She brought curry stalls to Cronulla in the 1970s following the White Australia era, and championed feminism for both her daughters, her five granddaughters, and two great-granddaughters. She was a visionary and a helluva good laugh.
I will miss her so much.
If Australian aged-care truly is in such a dire place, and it seems it is, we are morally void if we continue to sit on our hands. The Government’s decision to call a Royal Commission into the industry is a strong first step, so long as measures are taken in the aftermath.
Just because people in aged care are often rendered speechless, doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a voice. We have to remember where we have come from, and where we’ll inevitably end up. Would we want the same?