Elders facing assaults in Australian old age homes

February 5th, 2011 - 8:10 pm ICT by IANS  

Sydney, Feb 5 (IANS) With Australian nursing homes reporting about 4,000 sexual and physical assaults on elderly residents in the last three years, serious concerns are being raised about safety in aged-care facilities.According to New Department of Health and Ageing statistics, 1,488 assaults were reported by aged-care providers last year, up from 1,411 the previous year and 925 in 2007-08. Serious physical assaults made up 80 percent of complaints, 19 percent were sexual assaults and one percent involved both.

Aged-care providers also reported 745 incidents last year, where residents went missing. There is no public record of what happened to these people, The Age reported Saturday.

National laws introduced in 2007 require nursing home staff to report allegations of serious physical assaults, sexual assaults, and missing residents to the department within 24 hours.

Compulsory national police checks for aged-care staff and volunteers were also introduced. The tougher laws followed a string of high-profile court cases, including one in which a Victorian carer was convicted of raping a resident at a Mount Eliza home.

A spokeswoman for the department said because the reports were investigated by police, she could not say how many were substantiated, except that the department had heard of 15 convictions since 2007. The rising trend reflected education about the new law, she said.

A spokeswoman for Elder Care Watch, Carol Williams, said the statistics were disturbing but, probably, represented a fraction of incidents because some facilities had failed to report allegations.

“There have been many instances of providers being found out because a third party has spoken up. Right now there are six nursing homes in New South Wales on notice for failing to report,” she said.

Williams said she had tracked two court cases in recent years, including one in which two personal carers rolled an elderly resident in tomato sauce as a practical joke. In another case, a nurse was found guilty of hitting patients with a pillow, kicking them on to their beds and forcing them to the ground.

Lynda Saltarelli of advocacy group Aged Care Crisis, called on the department to be more transparent about the details of incidents. She said nursing home staff and family members had told her they were afraid to report incidents because of poor whistleblower protections and the fear of retribution.

Both groups said more had to be done to examine the cause of assaults.

According to Pat Sparrow, acting chief executive of Aged and Community Services Australia, the national body representing about 1,100 aged-care providers, Australian facilities worked hard to keep residents safe. However, she called for the department to release more information about the reports.

“Information that can be released should be released … so we can understand what is happening and manage that appropriately,” she said.

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