The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety has commenced its most recent hearings, turning attention to the experiences of young people with disability living in residential aged care facilities.
Senior Counsel Assisting Peter Rozen QC highlighted the concerning rise of younger people in aged care, stating that 42 young Australians enter aged care facilities every week, adding up to 2,000 young people per year.
Lisa Corcoran, a resident in aged care at 42 years old, entering when she was 37, gave evidence to the Commission about her struggle with living in aged care as a young person with a disability.
She was accompanied by her speech pathologist, Jodie Chard, who translated on her behalf due to Ms Corcoran’s communication difficulties.
The future of younger people living in aged care
At the start of the hearing, Counsel Assisting Ms Eliza Bergin inquired with Ms Corcoran about what her future goals were, receiving a very strong response back.
Ms Corcoran says, “My number one goal is to get the f*** out of the nursing home.
“My number two goal is to hug my children. My number three goal is to communicate better.”
Ms Corcoran described her time in aged care as a “nightmare” and the “worst dream ever”.
She explained multiple occasions of fighting for basic rights for herself, including battling with management at her aged care facility to have a shower every two days instead of once a week.
As a vegetarian, the food provided to Ms Corcoran by the nursing home has been “crap”, and she recalls watching a dead body being removed from a room, head in a red bag, and transported away at lunchtime in front of herself and other residents.
Over her time receiving aged care, Ms Corcoran says she has been sexually assaulted, punched and pinched by staff.
Ms Corcoran finds aged care services emotionally draining due to her condition and the nursing home’s inability to provide appropriate care to her.
Luckily, she has recently secured a place in supported accommodation and is currently counting down the days until she moves.
Ms Corcoran expressed relief at the placement, which will take her away from the screaming and crying she hears constantly at the facility.
She also believes that her daughters and grandchildren will visit more because the supported accommodation won’t be as scary as the aged care home.
Her final statement to the Royal Commission was about why she decided to give evidence on a national level.
“So people understand that there are people like me and we are all humans, and humans crave respect. We are all equal and we are all human. I feel like I have lost that respect,” Ms Corcoran says.
Nowhere else to go
The second witness, Catherine Roche, provided evidence to the Royal Commission around the issues she faced placing her husband, Michael, into a high care nursing home when he was in his 50s.
Her husband suffered a horrible stroke which left him unable to communicate and wheelchair-bound.
Ms Roche managed to keep him in a rehabilitation unit for nine months, which she described as unusual since people tend to only spend three months at those types of facilities.
“It was all about churn [at the rehabilitation unit], rather than a patient's recovery,” Ms Roche says.
“Two days after Michael moved into the rehab centre, one of the younger doctors kind of showed me Michael’s MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan... He made a point to me that Michael would only be there for three months... I thought it was far too early for them to be telling me that Michael would be leaving within three months.”
Mr Roche gave up her career to make sure her husband was getting appropriate care from the rehabilitation unit, but also to make sure Michael didn’t receive any of the pressure the facility was putting on her to take Michael elsewhere.
Eventually, aged care became the only place to take him, there was nowhere else for Michael to go.
“There was nothing, absolutely nothing. I must have rang hundreds of places. I went to other rehabilitation centres... and I got comments like, “You're very lucky that Michael is where he is for nine months. Most patients would have been moved on after three,” Ms Roche says.
Ms Roche explained that she moved her husband into an aged care facility out of desperation but added that residential aged care was not the right place for him and that there need to be more options available for younger people needing high care.
"In aged care, Michael spent most of his time in his small room as he was wheelchair-bound and could not really leave without help from someone. There, he had had any limited remaining independence and choice stripped from him,” Ms Roche explains.
“Michael’s life got worse in aged care. I believe he got increasingly depressed. He did not engage with the activities on offer as they were not designed for a younger person. His physical condition deteriorated.”
Lastly, Mr Roche says most people who go into residential aged care go there to die, but Michael wanted to get back to a normal life, only his aged care didn’t provide him with that opportunity as he died in November in 2017.
Commissioner Lynelle Briggs AO told Ms Roche that the current aged care system “needs to really grow up” and help older people and younger people in aged care receive quality care based on their choices.