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Lack of government planning means most vulnerable could die before quality care arrives

Aged care: “This is shocking because the life expectancy for many of these individuals will be less than two years.”

AGED care is reaching crisis point, with a Catholic healthcare chief warning lack of government planning means our most vulnerable could die before they receive the high-level care they required. 

Catholic Health Australia chief executive Suzanne Greenwood told an aged-care and end-of-life inquiry in Brisbane the waiting list for vulnerable seniors to receive the Level 4 package, was two years – once they became entitled to access it.

“This is shocking because the life expectancy for many of these individuals will be less than two years,” Ms Greenwood told the parliamentary inquirythat is also examining palliative care and voluntary assisted dying.

“So what is the reality of that list? 

“Is it six years? Is it 10? 

“It’s just shocking.

“Currently the prospects for elder Australians needing quality health care services are uncertain because there is no Federal funding plan to cater for the projected two million Australians who are going to be over the age of 85 by the year 2055.”

Ms Greenwood also warned against “the risk of much-needed funds for palliative care being diverted to assisted suicide”.

“Legalising voluntary assisted dying advances the misguided belief that the elderly, sick and vulnerable constitute a burden to society,” she said.

Ms Greenwood, the outgoing CHA head, presides over Catholic hospitals, health and aged-care services that provide more than 10,000 beds and 25,000 aged-care beds across Australia, service 36,500 home-care and support consumers, and employs more than 80,000 health workers.

The waiting lists and lack of plannning she described added to troubling reports about the state of the aged-care industry – the latest nursing home closure on the Gold Coast left scores of vulnerable elderly residents in limbo due to a contract dispute – and stories of abuse and neglect that continue to be heard at a royal commission into aged care. 

Queensland’s Health Minister has demanded a federal inquiry into the Earle Haven Retirement Village shutdown that required paramedics, nurses and doctors to help evacuate residents to about a dozen other nursing homes.

At the royal commission, former journalist Lisa Backhouse alleged her mother Christine Weightman was hit multiple times by carers at a Brisbane care centre. The carers have been stood down.

The commission also heard allegations that Ms Weightman, once a “fiercely independent woman”, suffered a fall and was left lying on the floor of her room for nearly 45 minutes.

Ms Backhouse told reporters outside the commission that she installed surveillance cameras in her mother’s bedroom at the nursing home, which revealed Ms Weightman sleeping through one of Brisbane’s coldest nights without a blanket, and other footage showing her left for many hours without any attention.

“If you have an elderly, vulnerable resident in an aged-care centre in Australia today, go out and buy yourself a surveillance camera, and put it in their room,” Ms Backhouse told reporters. “I think we really need to shine a light in some very dark corners in the Australian aged-care sector.” 

Ms Greenwood told the aged-care inquiry that in Queensland, demand for palliative care services in Catholic facilities far exceeded available services.  She said CHA would have “no part” in voluntary assisted dying (euthanasia).

“We urge the Queensland Government to consider the type of community it wants to create, and not act to create a community that does not value the sanctity of human life,” she said.

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