The topic of Aged Care can no longer be ignored.
There has to be a complete review of the system. Over the years there have been band-aid changes. Every time there is an incident in a Nursing Home, Hostel or Aged Care facility there is public outrage, the media runs with it and there is a resurgence of Aged Care policies and protocol reviews.
There is a bigger picture here, and it is getting bigger the more we learn and understand about our ageing population.
Of course bricks and policies are important and necessary, but it is the people – the potential clients of facilities – who have to be the main focus.
As I write this, my fingers just don’t work fast enough to keep up with my thoughts.
For the last sixteen years of my working life I have worked in Aged Care. The facility was classed as low care, where residents were still able to do for themselves with help. The ladies kept their rooms dusted, washed their own smalls and often set the tables in the dining room and collected the dishes after the meal. The men had veggie gardens and raked the leaves in the yard.
The residents were encouraged to continue their local involvement and often entertained their visitors with afternoon tea. It was their home and they took responsibility for it.
The hostel was managed by a board made up of local people and fund raising was very much ‘owned’ by locals as well as the Churches.
Then it all changed. The board was replaced by faceless people in Melbourne, and all monies raised went into a central community fund, also in Melbourne, which meant we had to apply if we wanted money for equipment or to fund a program.
Occupational Health & Safety came into the picture and there were lists of things the residents were no longer allowed to do. These included familiar household duties that had kept them active and engaged with their environment, giving them a sense of responsibility, self-worth and pride of being able to contribute to the daily running of the hostel.
The building was slowly rebuilt into a ‘state of the art’ facility and its soul was destroyed. The money issue became more important than the welfare of the residents. Don’t get me wrong here, the residents were all well fed and cared for and there were never any suggestions of residents experiencing questionable treatment.
But somehow the Hostel became an institution. Gone was the lovely warm friendly environment where the residents had a life, where each day there was something new to look forward to.
Of course the residents became older and frailer and two levels of care evolved with an enclosed area for people with specific needs.
I became so frustrated at seeing people spending their days sitting in rows in the lounge room watching TV, or playing some mindless game and the only thing to look forward to was the next meal.
Ultimately, they went into decline through lack of physical activity and mental stimulation. Yes, they did have visitors, and family members took them out on trips, but that didn’t come anywhere near close to replacing what they had been used to. These are real people with a lifetime of experiences, with the potential to still have a good quality of life to live and enjoy.
Because of the paper work to justify the work on each shift and the time it took to document everything, we were time strapped and so ultimately, we were not able to let the residents do the things they were still capable of doing.
Unknowingly by our actions, we were disempowering our residents. We were taking away that independence because we couldn’t give them ‘time’.
Can you understand my frustration? There were all these wonderful people aged between 70 and 100 with so much to offer, so much wisdom and life experience to share, just living day-to-day, same routine, same daily expectations.
So, I did something about it. I went to the CEO and together we applied for some funding to set up an independent living skills program. This also required the implementation of a training program for the staff as there had been a minimal requirement for qualifications to work in the hostel previously.
We called on local people to share their skills.
The ambulance officers helped with First Aid and mobility instruction, trained nurses taught basic nursing skills and a counsellor provided information about dealing with the grieving process which many residents experience when they come into care, losing their home and their independence. The program ran for six weeks and worked well, so we were allocated the funding for a full-time program with two activity workers.
A colleague and I set up the unit and worked out our program, which ran five days a week from 10am to 3-30pm. The activities included reading the newspaper over a cup of morning tea, going through the photo albums and listening to each other’s stories, having visitors for afternoon tea, taking bus trips to local places and beyond, attending concerts, swimming, cooking, flower arranging, beauty treatments . . . the list goes on.
We had a choir and were often asked to sing at churches and concerts. It took a while for the residents to take up the idea of exercises or ‘chair-robics' as we called them. Lycra not mandatory!!!
Our centenarian wouldn’t come on board. All she needed was her Epsom salts in warm water every day at 6 am. On fire drill days she could be found running up and down the passages making sure all ‘the oldies’ – her words –were out of the building.
The program gave back the residents a feeling of normality and self-worth. It brought them out of themselves with conversation and social contact, giving them something to look forward to and contribute to each day.
Looking back I realise how fortunate I was to have a career where I was given the opportunity to think outside the square and to be able to act on it. And what a wonderful learning curve it was for me. Above all, I learnt the importance of maintaining dignity for the residents in my care, of affording respect to people who had over many years, contributed so much to the community.
Someone once said to me . . .
“Aged Care Facilities are not where people go to die. Rather that they go there to live until they die.”
How true that is. It is up to us to make sure that dignity and quality of life is nurtured and preserved always.
After all, we only get one shot at this life so let’s do a good job of it. We of the GREY POWER have a loud voice, let it be heard for aged care!
Evelyn W, Australia
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