Royal Commission into aged care: a chance to hear from different voices

A Charles Sturt University (CSU) academic who has long advocated for a Royal Commission into Australia’s aged care system welcomes the announcement by the Prime Minister to establish a Royal Commission into the aged care industry.

Lecturer and researcher in the CSU School of Nursing, Midwifery and Indigenous Health and long-term aged care advocate Associate Professor Maree Bernoth (pictured) said the Royal Commission is overdue and will be as important and revealing as the present Royal Commission into the Australian banking and finance sector.

"To some it may be curious that Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced a Royal Commission into aged care," Professor Bernoth said.

"There have been so many enquiries into this sector resulting in a plethora of reports and recommendations, yet we continue to hear about and see evidence of abuse and neglect in residential aged care.

"But the positive aspect, as the government works towards developing the terms of reference for the Commission, is that they should be mindful that the same voices are heard at each inquiry, so now is a chance to hear from different voices.

"By this I mean hearing from families, from those who work with the older person providing direct care, from our Indigenous peoples, and those from diverse cultural backgrounds.

"The Royal Commission should ask: what is important to them?"

Professor Bernoth has been a long-term advocate for a Royal Commission into this sector. Since 2006, while undertaking a PhD related to aged care in Australia, she has written about and spoken out about abuse and neglect in the aged care sector.

"As a result of my advocacy, I have experienced the ire of the aged care industry, and this caused me to leave clinical work and move to the academy to pursue the opportunity to teach and research and make a difference," Professor Bernoth said.

"The focus of enquiries too often is on the business model, but what continues to be lost is the person."

Professor Bernoth argues that the single most significant aspect of working with older people is the quality of the relationship between the older person and the person working with them.

"The space in that relationship or interaction is precious and needs to provide the quality and the expertise that is required by each individual," she said.

"If we start by identifying what makes that relationship work, we will have a better chance of getting the aged care system functional and satisfying for the older person, their family, and those who work with them either in residential aged care or in the community.

"There are organisations who understand this relationship and have the support, encouragement and ongoing monitoring in place to enhance and grow those interactions.

"The Royal Commission is an opportunity to identify these organisations and use them as the map to move us to a sector where the individual is celebrated and supported in a sustained sector of our communities."

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