Assaults increase in aged care

Recently released figures by the Department of Health and Ageing show a continuing increase in levels of sexual and physical assault of elderly people in aged care in Australia.

2007-8     925
2008-9     1411
2009-10  1488

Such a steady increase is disturbing and prompts me to ask if we are getting any better at both monitoring and preventing this abuse. The compulsory reporting legislation was designed to uncover the levels of abuse. It has done this by making it mandatory to report such events within 24 hours of occurring.

However, prevention of this behaviour is not addressed. Elderly people in care are obviously just as vulnerable to being assaulted as they were before compulsory reporting was introduced.

The prosecution of staff who have sexually assaulted elderly residents is small discouragement when we look at the levels of continuing assault. Where is the deterrent effect?

Better to improve screening of employees with psychological assessment and better background checks. Education is also needed in person-centred care values, attitudes and behaviour and on what constitutes abusive behaviour. The current meagre amount of dementia education and exposure to solid person-centred education is hopelessly inadequate in providing the industry with qualified and skilled carers. Qualified maybe when they leave school but not skilled. Providers skimp too often on this area and think they have satisfied their statutory requirements by providing one session per annum on “behaviour management”. Its not good enough any more and the public will call providers to task on this before too long by asking them what training they provide thier staff in dementia care and the person-centred approach.

Finally, where is the accountability of colleagues who see abuse occurring and say nothing? I have heard too often of staff remaining silent for fear of retribution or simply being ignorant that what they are seeing is unacceptable. The plea that they didn’t know it was abuse can no longer stand scrutiny. If you see it happening you have a responsibility both legally and morally to do something about it by reporting it.

These figures tell me that compulsory reporting is not yet working effectively to protect our vulnerable elderly people in care. We need a better strategic approach to prevention and its not happening from government nor from providers.