While the federal Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck was asleep at the wheel, 685 older Australians living in aged care homes died of Covid.
If 685 deaths don’t warrant a ministerial resignation, what will?
Minister Colbeck continues to put lives at risk by allowing staff to work at multiple aged care homes without residents and staff being vaccinated. While the government put out guidelines on this issue, Minister Colbeck and Brendan Murphy, secretary of the Department of Health, would surely have known that guidelines alone would not stop aged care workers working in more than one aged care home.
And to make matters worse, these guidelines do not apply to agency staff, including labour hire contractors and emergency workers – a large portion of the aged care workforce.
The single site workforce arrangements excluded agency staff so as to ensure no aged care home was left without sufficient or appropriate staff.
Low pay and casual, insecure work mean staff have to work in several aged care homes simply to make ends meet. We had hoped a $104 million Royal Commission might fix this problem, but it didn’t.
While the Royal Commissioners recommended changes, including an increase in wages, the federal government simply ignored this.
So yet again, the systemic problems identified over decades within aged care have put Victoria on a knife’s edge. It also plunged several aged care homes back into lockdown, with some older people being confined to their room.
In their special report the aged care royal commissioners expressed concern about providers’ decision to keep residents locked in, and families locked out, of aged care homes.
These lockdowns had a devastating effect on residents, increasing their depression, anxiety, confusion and loneliness due to the absence of visitors and long confinements in their rooms. Such lockdowns are also possibly illegal.
Make no mistake: aged care homes are in lockdown in Victoria because Minister Colbeck failed to deliver a successful vaccination rollout. While Minister Colbeck says he is “very comfortable” with the vaccination rollout in aged care homes, many families in Victoria are extremely worried their loved one may catch the potentially fatal illness.
In a dance that has become all too familiar, Minister Colbeck again tried to shift the blame. He suggested aged care homes that hadn’t received a single dose of the vaccine had opted out. This simply was not true.
First published in The Klaxon on 5 June 2021