Media sparks action on aged complaints
A ROYAL commissioner is disturbed that families have had to go to the media to get action about serious incidents in aged care facilities.
The federal health department may escalate its response to reported incidents if it has resulted in media attention, the aged care royal commission heard.
Commissioner Lynelle Briggs said it is apparent from the inquiry's community meetings that action has only occurred after people have gone to the media.
"I find that rather disturbing," Ms Briggs said on Wednesday.
"Why is it necessary for somebody to go to the media to get action?"
Health department witness Peter O'Brien said it was not necessary.
"Generally the media are interested in a significant issue like severe injury to the resident, a staff member being charged or a severe or unusual incident," he told the commission's Brisbane hearing.
"Generally speaking media aren't interested in I suppose a rough handling issue that results in no injury or no charges.
"So their issues or attention is probably similar to what we would be interested in, in terms of an escalation and/or referral."
Mr O'Brien said there could be cases where media told an approved aged care provider about an incident, which was then reported to the department under compulsory reporting obligations.
"Generally speaking, the media involvement from our perspective isn't significant," Mr O'Brien, a compulsory reporting team leader, said.
"Normally it's the same issues that we're interested in."
The royal commission is examining the department's response to Japara Healthcare's reporting of 20 allegations of physical and sexual abuse at three of its facilities over the past three years.
In one case, a resident with bruising to his eye said he was hit by a man during the night.
"I was hit in the face with a water bottle after I punched him," the resident said.
The staff member was stood down pending an investigation before being sacked.
Police were involved but the family did not want to press charges.
In another case, a resident complained that a staff member pulled the blankets off them and "touched me down below".
The employee was stood down but reinstated after an investigation and required to undertake additional training on elder abuse and education about privacy and dignity.
Mr O'Brien said the compulsory reporting team used to focus mainly on late or low reporting by approved providers.
"We are now much more focused on the care and wellbeing of the care recipients," he said.
In each of the Japara cases being examined by the royal commission, the health department decided it did not need to take further action beyond the steps undertaken by the provider.