The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety released an interim report yesterday. The document is a sad reflection of the horrific evidence of cruelty and incompetence presented to that inquiry since its establishment by Scott Morrison last September. This is the most important royal commission to have been called for decades and credit must be given to the ABC for exposés that gave the Prime Minister no choice but to act.
Over the past two years, I read about (but could not bring myself to watch) the undercover footage that was broadcast proving abuse at various “homes.” The thoughts of everyone who did watch, or who learned about the assaults by other media, turned instinctively to their own beloved elderly. That substitution made it heartbreaking and enraging. But when the commission condemns “the system” for having been so demonstrably “unkind and uncaring,” I fear it veers disturbingly close to saying – in unison with Dalrymple’s infamous murderer patient – “The Knife Went In.” Because a “system” is not responsible for anything. It cannot be kind and caring. Or are the commissioners avoiding something more confronting to let us all off the hook?
Pointing the finger is usually discouraged during a ‘national conversation’ of this kind but provided you’re pointing at the actual problem and not trying to make somebody else feel guilty, there is no reason to holster it. The truth is we have grown less and less personally committed to the care of the elderly. Anglophones are rare in some of these institutions. Prestige-wise, it’s accurate to say most native-born Australians do not value the work at all. There can be selfishness behind putting a loved one “into care” – our “lifestyle” usually comes first – but mostly it’s a pragmatic decision or a medically necessary one. We’re busy, after all, and looking after the old – to a generation that has never known an extended family – is one of the things the state is ‘supposed’ to do.
Today’s press coverage on the commission report emphasises increased funding (of course), better training and more rigorous accountability. These might even do a lot of good but I doubt they will do much to salve the unmeasurable despondency to be found in “homes” that aren’t.