Nursing homes: The system let my father down says daughter

What You Should Know
by Frank Morris
Retirement Housing and Aged Care - Q&A Forum

Nearly 12 months after her father's death, Christine Innocenzi is still aggrieved at the fact that the family's search for a "good" nursing home did not pay off. Writes Christine: "My dad died in hospital last July, and he had been there since February. After tireless work in searching for a good nursing home he never made it into one! We obviously have a big problem (with the system). I would like to know if there is something that we can do now! - write letters, and to whom?""

Frank Morris comments: Christine's plight is not an isolated case. For the past several years I've been hearing from families and carers who have experienced similar problems with our aged care system.

Like Christine, they were angry, frustrated and somewhat bewildered at the way they and their dependents were treated by the system.

Unfortunately, a lot of people haven't got a forum in which to vent their feelings.

A few years ago, the well-known journalist and broadcaster David Dale vented his anger and concern in the Sydney Morning Herald, with an article about how his father died before Dale could find a bed in "a suitable place."

Writes Dale: "He (his father) did have a bed in a nursing home for the last six weeks of his life, but "suitable" is not the word I would describe it.

"Its deficiencies were more to do with overcrowding, noise, stodgy food and a pervasive sense of shabbiness - hardly the conditions under which a human being should be expected to spend what proved to be his dying days.

"It wasn't a question of money.

"But I learned what thousands of other Australians in my age group are learning every week: when the time of desperation comes for an ageing parent you take what you can get."

There's about a five-year gap between Dale's experience and Christine's - and still the stories of woe keep on coming. In the 21st century we should have a much more advanced residential aged care system than we have today.

Successive governments since the 1930s are at fault. They turned a blind eye to the consequences of population ageing and how it would impact on future generations.

By the time the politicians decided to confront the "ageing population" question in the late 1970s, our aged care and health systems were both well and truly behind the eight ball.

Governments have been playing catch-up ever since. And that's the way it is going to be for decades to come.

But here's the paradox: when it comes to aged care we are living in the Lucky Country. Of that there is no doubt.

In certain parts of the US the aged care system is a shambles. In the late 1990s a survey published by the Journal of the American Geriatric Society revealed that 30 per cent of America's aged claimed they would rather die in another location than live out their days in a nursing home.

That said, our system may not the best in the world but it's not the worst either.

Since 1997 the aged care system has been changing for the better. And it will continue to do so.

The system that we'd all like to see in place is still a figment of the imagination.

In a recent rebuttal on the state of the aged care system in the ACT the Minister for Ageing, Mr Kevin Andrews, said: "I want to move on from the outdated stereotypes and a negative view about aged care to one that acknowledges the many modern aged-care homes and vibrant communities."