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Aged care residents neglected once again

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Aged care Minister Richard Colbeck looks on in the Senate (image via YouTube)

Has the Government learned anything about the need to adequately fund and oversee aged care? 

According to Melbourne-based newspaper The Age, the aged care crisis which peaked during the second wave of our recent global health pandemics was years in the making. The implications of COVID-19 for 180,000 elderly Australians in aged care facilities have been such that, well over five hundred succumbed to death while in residential care in Victoria alone.

According to The Guardian, up to 40 per cent of those residents came from just ten residential settings.

Perhaps the reality was that our elderly residents could not withstand the severity of coronavirus and the cruel conditions which fuelled its spread like wildfire. But perhaps most troubling has been the systemic failures of aged healthcare which saw them cruelly neglected in their greatest hours of need.

It has become clear care was underfunded and the facilities which housed people were woefully ill-equipped for this pandemic. To be frank, some of these residents barely stood a chance. Sadly, the penchant for politicians from both of our major parties to play the blame game by finger-pointing squarely at their opposition has continued. 

Instead of politicians applying their best efforts to fix our broken aged care system, the status quo remains. According to many Liberal Party supporters, the Victorian Labor Government is entirely responsible for the second wave of coronavirus due to hotel quarantine breaches. Therefore, the subsequent spread of the disease and deaths are effectively their fault.

On the other hand, the Victorian Labor faithful (and the Daniel Andrews fans) made it clear the problem was the privatisation of aged care facilities prompted by the conservative Government, which always sought to undermine adequate care of our elderly.

The truth is private facilities are primarily designed to manufacture profit for those wealthy enough to invest. Invariably, these profits come through cost-cutting, underfunding and inadequate staffing. Cost-cutting exercises in turn continue to come at the expense of resident healthcare, wellbeing and safety. The tragedy has not been lost on aged care staff, who are also not immune. Not only are some of these facilities inadequate, many are negligent. In some instances, perhaps criminally so.

In case these facts were lost on the public, Victoria’s own Premier indicated quite insensitively at one point, that he’d never allow his own mother to be treated to some of those homes' brand of “care.” Arguably, in a tit for tat display of political point-scoring based on very little reality, the Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt emotionally and emphatically defended all the nursing staff who he wouldn’t hear a word against.

Bizarrely, that missed the criticism actually levied against the institution of the aged care system. It spoke volumes of his need to get in touch with reality.

The coronavirus has, of course, been known for some time to impact the elderly with the greatest ferocity. Many would now argue thought that as a direct result of government inaction and neglect as well as a lack of an adequate response. The residents of aged care facilities will continue to bare the absolute brunt of this pandemic.

Meanwhile, the very issue of the aged care crisis remains a contentious political hot potato for which all politicians seem to avail themselves by conveniently shirking all responsibility and putting it onto their opponents.

Some hoped that the latest Government budget would provide a way forward. Those seeking answers, however, were largely left wanting. The Federal Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, did boast the home care package expenditure in the budget which will be part of an economic package that sees Australia plunge into a trillion-dollar debt.

The Sydney Morning Herald has already raised questions, too, about whether that particular big-ticket item in the budget, is even close adequate, let alone worthy of unveiling.

For some, it’s a sad indictment on our nation that those we trusted with governance deferred urgent large scale reform until after the report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety is delivered in 2021. By which point, the majority hope this pandemic will have, for the most part, run its course. 

For a budget that saw our Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenburg’s espoused rhetoric around care and the notions of social responsibility, realistically there was very little of either to be found in the nation’s fiscal management.

On Thursday 8 October, the Leader of the Opposition, Anthony Albanese, was critical of the proposed 2020 budget in his official reply. He was quick to point out that it lacked gusto.

On the other hand, he has already been very public in making it clear that the Opposition will not block supply. So while seemingly more progressive in terms of core values, Labor offered little help by way of feasible solutions moving forward. There were some civil warnings barked, but little bite in what was an important speech for Albanese as the Leader of the Labor Party. 

In my lifetime at least, our nation has never needed leadership quite like this. And to my living memory, never in time has there been so very little on offer. While the pandemic blind-sighted many, it's fair to say that there'd be at least a few politicians who could take a stand for the elderly and the community.

The sad truth for some of our aged care residents, of course, is that if we continue on patiently in the hope that true leadership will emerge from the current political landscape, many more aged care residents may die waiting.

Naomi Fryers is an Independent Australia intern and freelance writer based in Melbourne.

Disclaimer: Naomi Fryers' internship, auspiced by Arts Access Victoria, is funded by a Sustaining Workers Grant, dispersed by the Victorian Government via Creative Victoria. Full editorial control is maintained by Independent Australia. 

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