Amid horrific aged care stories, there is joy, care and connection

In this guest post, Lincoln Hopper, CEO of St Vincent’s Care Services shares a perspective on transforming the narrative: aged care as a chapter of empathy, connection, and dignity

The residential aged care experience suffered two fresh blows in the past fortnight.

Firstly, the horrific story of 95-year-old dementia patient Clare Nowland, who was allegedly
tasered by a police officer in her residential aged care home in Cooma. Ms Nowland died in
hospital last week.

Shortly after Ms Nowland’s story broke, a second and similar one emerged – this time
concerning Rachel Grahame, another dementia patient, who was placed in handcuffs by
attending police at her aged care home in 2020, an incident that caused such distress that
Ms Grahame spent six weeks in hospital recovering from the trauma.

Two absolutely dreadful stories.

Stories that for many Australians – particularly older people and their adult children contemplating their parents’ future care needs – cemented the already negative perceptions they held about our sector.

And yet these two stories – as shocking and as terrible as they are – bear little resemblance to the aged care we see experienced in St Vincent’s-run homes every day, and in the homes operated by our not-for-profit peers.

Hardly a day goes by that we don’t get to hear about – or witness – a genuinely moving or inspiring story about the extraordinary care our people have provided a resident; or hear about a heartfelt expression of thanks from the adult child of a resident parent.

And hardly a day goes by, that I don’t wish more Australians could see the type of support – full of love and attention and respect – that characterises the residential aged care that I know.

But against the stories of the past fortnight, how do we as aged care providers turn such a negative narrative around?

Is it enough to just do our jobs and hope that it makes a difference?

Will there ever be a time when my aged care colleagues aren’t afraid or embarrassed to say in what industry they work at a social gathering?

About six months ago, St Vincent’s Care decided we would try to do something about answering those questions.

For example, we hear again and again from adult children who feel their elderly parent requires residential aged care but, because of all the negative stories, are genuinely fearful about their loved one’s future.

At the same time, we hear from potential residents – again, misinformed by the same negative stories – afraid for their loss of independence.

This week (June 5) we launch a campaign to address those issues head-on.

‘Celebrating You’ is an online, short-episode TV series that profiles our residents, their loved ones, and our carers as they really are.

It’s a series that tells the truth about residential aged care and how it’s overwhelmingly built on the beautiful relationships struck between residents, employees, families, and volunteers.

About how the independence and individuality of residents is not just maintained but encouraged.

The thing that stands out to me most from watching the series is how residents and aged care workers bond and support each other. They’re authentic. Honest. Positive.

Don’t get me wrong, behind our campaign’s smiling faces and genuine care and affection, our sector is still in crisis.

At last count, two-thirds of aged care providers are financially underwater. We are still struggling to find enough workers to fill shifts.

Lincoln Hopper, CEO, St Vincent’s Care Services

Worst of all, many of aged care’s most valued workers – therapists, dieticians, pastoral carers, activity coordinators, cooks, cleaners and maintenance workers – have not been included in the recently announced 15% national pay increase decision. They’ve been ignored.

And the tragic double-whammy? The crucial contributions of these workers – providing social interaction and stimulus; giving professional care related to diet, physical therapy, and dental hygiene – is also not recognised by the new mandatory staffing model that comes into force later this year.

Come October, the vast majority of aged care providers will be placed in the invidious position of either trying to fund these workers ourselves, at a further loss, or cutting them back, if not altogether.

Nevertheless, we won’t let these and other challenges define us, our sector, or the people we serve.

We choose to tell a story about what makes aged care special; about what makes us proud. A story about healthy ageing. That sees people as getting older (not ‘old’) and that values everyone who contributes to our sector.

A story where aged care is not a full stop, but another chapter.


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