Kick the profiteers out of aged care

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As the Royal Commission into Aged Care continues, further evidence is mounting about the appalling way elderly people are being treated.

The government has announced that commission hearings will be extended for another six months. This is both evidence of the extent of the problems the sector faces, as well as an attempt by the government to buy time to wriggle out of their responsibilities.

Bupa, who look after around 6700 aged care residents, have been scrambling to control the heavy criticism weighed against them at the hearings. To get a picture of the type of companies running aged care homes it is only necessary to look at the figures associated with Bupa.

Bupa are the largest for-profit care home operator in the country. The company had a total income of $7.5 billion in 2015-16 financial year. From that they paid just $105 million in tax. They managed this by shifting money offshore.

While Bupa company executives fill their pockets, aged care workers and residents suffer. Audits show that conditions in at least a third of the company’s homes are deemed to be a “serious risk”. Of all care homes run by for-profit providers, Bupa has had the lowest average audit score.

Low audit scores mean poor, neglectful and even abusive care. Residents have reported having the number of incontinence pads issued per day restricted, wounds infested with maggots and meals so bad that you would not feed it to a dog.

The lack of mandated nursing ratios mean that staff levels are low. Nurses are simply unable to attend to the many residents in their care. The role of a Division 1 nurse has, in many homes, become simply the person who gives out medication. Cheaper, less qualified Personal Care Attendants often do tasks that are traditionally those of a nurse.

While these Attendants are hardworking and well-meaning, they are held back by impossible working conditions.

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) has long complained about understaffing in aged care homes. The absence of nurse to patient ratios means that the companies themselves decide on staffing levels, putting profits before the needs of the staff and the residents.

The ANMF has demanded that staff to patient ratios should be published by companies so that future residents know what level of care they can expect to receive. But nothing will substitute for legally mandated ratios and a stricter regime governing the administration of all aged care facilities.

The Australian Medical Association calls for home care packages aimed at keeping people in their own homes for longer, 24-hour on-site nurses and incentives for GPs to visit homes. Investment in these areas would go some way to address the problems but on their own will not be enough. The overriding problem is that these private companies operate on a for-profit basis.

Even with stricter laws and more regulation these profiteers will still try to cut costs while they line their pockets with government subsidies and residents’ fees.

The entire aged care sector needs to be transformed. Tinkering at the edges like this Royal Commission is designed to do will not result in adequate change. The change we need has to be to the profit motive. People who have worked and paid taxes their entire lives deserve nothing less.

All aged care homes, associated services, and the health sector as a whole, needs to be placed in public hands and under democratic control. Committees of management should be made up of residents, families and aged care workers. This is the only way to ensure elderly people in care live decent lives with dignity and respect.

These demands must be raised by residents, workers, trade unions and community groups alike.

By a public sector health worker