‘If this happened to children we wouldn’t turn a blind eye’

Friday, 6th January, 2017

ABUSE CRISIS – The number of assaults on elderly residents of aged care facilities continues to rise.

THE federal government has been accused of downplaying the “obvious horror” of the rise in the number of reportable assaults, including sexual assaults on vulnerable seniors in residential aged care.

There were 2862 reportable assaults in 2015-16 – up 237 on the previous year’s figure of 2625, and more than 500 up on the number of incidents in 2013-14.

The annual report on the operation of the Aged Care Act shows the number of reportable assaults, which do not include resident-on-resident assaults, included 2422 alleged or suspected unreasonable use of force, 396 alleged or suspected sexual assaults and 44 both.

Paul Versteege from the Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association accused the government of trying to “downplay the obvious horror of such numbers by expressing them as a

proportion of the number of residents during any given year”.

“Over 2015-2016 the government report says there were 234,931 residents in care, which means that ‘only’ 1.2 per cent of nursing home residents were viciously assaulted,” he said.

Carol Williams from Elder Care Watch described reporting of alleged assaults in nursing homes as “cryptic” and “another example of lack of transparency in the regulation of aged care”.

“We don’t know how many prosecutions were launched or whether any convictions resulted,” she said.

“If the Department of Health does collate information on the severity of the assaults and on the alleged perpetrators and if it does follow up on what happens, the government does not make this information available to the public.

“The report is dismissive: it states blandly that the alleged assaults affected only 1.2 per cent of residents in 2015-2016. It seems to be saying ‘nothing of concern here’. But this percentage represents 2862 vulnerable elders.

“If there were statistics showing nearly 3000 alleged assaults against children in our primary schools we would not turn a blind eye. We would want to know more: how many were serious, how many substantiated.

“If staff were found guilty, we would want to know what happened to them.

“Historically, both provider associations and ministers for aged care have played down the significance of alleged assaults. This is unacceptable.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said any mistreatment or assault of a care recipient was unacceptable and all instances were taken seriously.

“Providers who run residential aged care facilities are responsible for ensuring a safe and home-like environment for care recipients and are expected to have pro­active measures and strategies in place to prevent and respond to any suspicion or allegation of assault,” she said.

The spokeswoman said the department only collected data that was required under the Aged Care Act 1997 to assess whether providers had met their legislative timeframes for reporting assaults.

Public policy issue

Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA), which represents church, charitable and community-based aged care providers, said elder abuse was a significant public policy issue that could have devastating consequences for older people.

“At the very core of elder abuse is the loss of dignity and basic human rights,” said chief executive Pat Sparrow.  A recent ACSA report calls for increased government investment in elder abuse-focused training programs for the aged care workforce.

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