Nursing home debacle:
by Mati English The Australian Nursing Federation (ANF) has stepped up its actions over the Howard Government's disastrous nursing homes policy which has resulted in aged residents being mistreated, and in the case of the Riverside Nursing Home in Victoria, being forcibly removed as a result of incompetent and bungling government intervention. "The Commonwealth Government has handled the situation at Riverside Nursing Home appallingly from go to whoa", said Hannah Sellers, Assistant Secretary of the Victorian Branch of the ANF. Ms Sellers accused the government of failing to deal appropriately with the complaints of community members and nurses and of not taking into consideration the needs of the residents. "And now it has failed to take into account the entitlements of the staff. Last Monday morning, without warning or consultation, the Federal Government closed down the Riverside Nursing Home and began removing its residents to a hospital. The Government did not even take the time to consider proposals for new management and extra staff. Some residents agreed to move out, but a number refused to sign the papers and as The Guardian went to press were still there. It took the government 49 days from the first (known) complaint to take action. And when it did move, it was with a sledge hammer, causing considerable distress to residents and their families. A number of the nursing home residents have partners living next door in a retirement village. Others have families who live near by. They were shocked to hear on Monday that they were to move to a private hospital 40km away. As for the staff of the nursing home, they have been effectively sacked without warning. Ms Sellers called on the Commonwealth Government to honour the outstanding entitlements of Riverside nurses and care workers who have lost their jobs as a result of the closure. "We want the Prime Minister to give a commitment that the entitlements of the staff will be protected." The Government and its Aged Care Minister Bronwyn Bishop have proven to be completely insensitive and incompetent in the callous manner in which they have treated nursing home residents, their families and the workers at the home. "The events which occurred at Riverside Nursing Home are testimony to a system of care that has broken down", said Ms Sellers, "and the Commonwealth Government and the Minister for Aged Care have made it very clear that the community cannot rely on them to fix it." She pointed out that the industry had its chance to self-regulate and had "blown it". Self-regulation The whole situation arises out of the Government's pursuit of economic rationalist policies in which the private sector is left to regulate itself with little or no "interference" from the state. In 1997, the Federal Government removed the requirement on nursing homes to provide qualified nursing staff. It also introduced a system of self- regulation. In Parliament this week Labor spokesperson on health, Jenny Macklin, revealed that aged-care officials had not carried out spot checks of nursing homes in two years. The Government has provided $3.5 billion a year to care providers with no accountability for how the funding is spent or whether it is even spent on residents in care. The ANF had succeeded in having minimum qualified staffing levels inserted into its award in 1996. However, in 1999, aged care providers argued successfully that the nurse- to-resident ratio should be removed from the award under the Federal Government's "award stripping" Workplace Relations Act, which saw all Federal awards reduced to 20 "allowable matters". The new Labor Government in Victoria has said it will re-regulate to ensure this situation does not happen again. "This promise is the only lifeline the Victorian community has to save residential aged care in this state", said Ms Sellers.