How the NewsMail has fought to shine a light on aged care
THE stories are as shocking as they are heartbreaking.
Our elderly people, among the most vulnerable of all citizens, suffering horrific abuse and neglect in facilities meant to guarantee their care.
Over years, the NewsMail team has been dedicated to making sure our elderly residents have the care they need, unafraid to tell the stories that are hard to hear, that need to be heard.
It's an effort noted by the Queensland Nurses' and Midwives Union who have thanked the NewsMail for its part in helping raise awareness, an essential step in bringing about the Aged Care Royal Commission.
These are some of the key stories we have covered to shine a light on the industry and ensure standards of care are front and centre.
Alley Foody and her siblings said goodbye to their mother, Emily, on January 12, 2017.
Just over two weeks earlier they say she was "neglected" at the Bundaberg aged care facility TriCare.
At the time, TriCare director Michael O'Connor strongly refuted claims that the company does not employ enough staff and urged anyone with issues to contact TriCare or the Aged Care Complaints Commissioner.
Emily's family claimed her pressure sore dressing was not changed enough and that she was frequently left in soiled nappies.
It was February 2017 when the NewsMail broke the horror story of the day local aged care advocate Heather Mansell Brown says she'll never forgive or forget.
It was the day she found her husband Bill, who was suffering dementia, on the veranda of Bundaberg's TriCare facility, covered in his own faeces.
Due to a lack of cleanliness, his scrotum was left bleeding.
It led Ms Mansell Brown on a mission to see change in the region.
In March 2017 a local family called for more funding into aged care as well as nurse to patient ratios after Toby Hewerdine broke his femur in the Bundaberg Tricare facility.
Ms Arnold said her father was left crying in pain for days when his broken leg was left undiagnosed, despite repeat calls for an X-Ray from the family.
Some of the claims made by the family included: finding their once-proud father lying in faeces, half out of the bed on the floor; another time left soaked in urine while left to watch television without glasses or hearing aids.
The family were so concerned about their father they put a poster up in his bedroom to remind staff of what needed to be done for him.
The report came as TriCare was declared as delivering quality standards of resident care after two audits in two months.
Nurses and locals took to the streets in 2017 to protest job cuts at Blue Care and the NewsMail was there to document the event.
Nurses, some of whom had worked for 17 years, were given marching orders in a round of job cuts.
"I firmly believe that the reduction in nursing hours will have severe ramifications for our residents that we care for," Enrolled Nurse Rosaleen Nicholls said.
A former Bundaberg nurse told families if she could give them one piece of vital advice, it was to ask to see care plans.
Cheryl Dorron said it was misleading for Blue Care to say that personal carers would handle basic medications, while nurses would still handle "high risk" medicines.
She said there was "no such thing as a basic medication" when it came to the complexity of how medications mix and affect the elderly and families needed to be vigilant in the wake of staff cuts.
A 2018 audit of the Pioneer Lodge showed Blue Care had failed its residents.
The audit result came after the NewsMail reported on an alleged leaked memo from the Pioneer facility in early December, 2017.
The memo said an Australian Aged Care Quality inspector had uncovered serious breaches at the facility during a spot inspection.
In February 2018, the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency published a damning audit of Blue Care's Pioneer Lodge nursing home, which cut its nursing staff from 24 to 16 in the previous year.
Ms Mansell Brown's calls for a royal commission into aged care were amplified when the NewsMail reported on the death of an 87-year-old woman at TriCare Bundaberg.
The woman died in hospital, but Ms Mansell Brown believed her death could have been prevented with proper staffing levels.
The aged care facility said they would not comment as the matter had been referred to the coroner, and sent staff an internal memo warning them not to respond to external requests for information.
Local advocates and families of those with relatives in aged care attended a meeting held in March, 2018 where former nurse of 43 years Cheryl Dorron described the situation as a "national disaster".
Locals told of loved ones with dementia being told to put their own clothes away and personal carers with a lack of training giving out medications.
Former Gracehaven nursing assistant Kylie Miller spoke out in March 2018 after what she claims were tactics of bullying staff and a lack of adequate care for residents.
Ms Miller claimed staffing levels were not adequate for proper levels of care and that at times she was in charge of up to 17 dementia patients or 42 low-care residents on her own.
Gracehaven's director of Seniors and Supported Living Bryan Mason said any time concerns were raised, they were taken seriously and appropriately investigated.
"Would anyone like to sit in an incontinence pad with two litres of urine for 12 hours?"
It was a confronting question raised by a Bundaberg woman who has spent almost 17 years caring for our elderly.
Nurse Rosaleen Nicholls spoke frankly at a recent Bundaberg aged care forum, and at times ovations from the audience drowned out her words in March 2018.
On March 24, 2018, aged care provider Blue Care has apologised for "quality failures" and admitted to sub-standard care at its Pioneer Lodge facility in Bundaberg.
The NewsMail revealed the admissions were made in a letter sent to the region's general practitioners in January 2018, following an audit by the Australian Aged Care Quality Council.
In the audit, Blue Care's Pioneer Lodge facility failed several categories including clinical care, medication, pain management and nutrition.
One woman speaking in the audience at an aged care crisis meeting in Bundaberg claims her mother was left blind and in a vegetative state because of a lack of care in a Bundaberg aged care home.
There was a sense of relief and celebration, couple with sensible trepedation, when Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for a royal commission in September 2018.
Speaking to the NewsMail, Ms Mansell Brown said she and other advocates were in a state of "euphoric shock".
"This is monumental and it's a shame there's been so much suffering of elderly people to get to this point," she said.
"It should never have got to this stage in the first place."
Heather Mansell Brown spoke out about some of the biggest issues in aged care in early 2019, saying she was gravely concerned about the role of drugs in the region's aged care facilities.
Mrs Mansell-Brown says on one hand, residents are having medication stolen for use by some staff members, while on the other, drugs are being over-used to subdue the elderly.
"My biggest concern is the drug taking, stealing from the residents and using it themselves," she said.
Last year, a Bundaberg woman lodged a $2 million Supreme Court claim against her former employer TriCare and a former colleague after an alleged workplace injury prohibited her from working.
The document states on the morning of March 1, 2016 Ms Evans was working as a personal carer at TriCare Bundaberg where she was rostered to shower a high care patient.
Ms Evans claims a lack of adequate help in her work led to a back injury.
Last year, the death of Theo Vis was put before the royal commission and the coroner.
Mr Vis, 96, died in Bundaberg's TriCare facility with a pressure sore on his back so severe it had eaten through to his coccyx and infection had spread up into his back, according to his partner Cinnamon Keighton.
TriCare did not respond to the NewsMail's queries at the time.
Bundaberg's aged care advocates told the NewsMail they were not shocked by shocking neglect and abuse in the aged care industry.
"It didn't come as a shock, it wasn't worse than what we expected, in fact, I think there is still a lot more to be done," Heather Mansell Brown said. Former nurse Cheryl Dorron also spoke out. "I don't know any other area or industry that gets government funding and doesn't have to account for how they spend it," she said.
In July this year, the QNMU called for clarity amid fears of cuts at Blue Care facilities.
A Blue Care spokesman said the facility was actually in the process of hiring more staff, rather than less.
Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck, speaking exclusively to the NewsMail, said standards introduced to the industry a year ago ensured that aged care providers delivered sufficient staffing.
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