Ballarat's elderly and disabled endangered by shortcuts

Shortcuts and cost savings in Ballarat supported residential care are endangering the lives of vulnerable residents, according to former care assistants. 

Former employees of one Ballarat supported residential services (SRS) facility claim disabled and elderly residents were left for hours in soiled incontinence pads due to understaffing and tended by unqualified staff. 

One whistle-blower, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said a woman with severe Parkinson’s had stopped asking for assistance and came to feel she was a “burden” to staff. Staff were tasked to cook, clean and launder for the facility as well as tend to over two dozen elderly, mentally and physically disabled residents. 

The former worker said staff were often so under the pump they would cut crucial corners. They said staff often failed to sign off on each dosage given to a patient, and instead signed off all dosages at the end of the shift.

This malpractice could result in a resident being administered an overdose and even death, they said. 

Staff who were partway through their qualifications and placement students were tasked with responsibilities they were unqualified to carry out, such as administering medication including the blood thinning medication Warfarin, they said.

Low level care: Former staff of a Ballarat supported residential care facility said residents weren't getting the level of care they needed, and their rights were being ignored. File image.

Low level care: Former staff of a Ballarat supported residential care facility said residents weren't getting the level of care they needed, and their rights were being ignored. File image.

Disability advocate Fiona Tipping said the elderly and people with psychiatric problems were packed in “like sardines” at SRS, which had led to assaults on elderly residents. 

People are pushed in like sardines, their money taken and the staff there are not necessarily trained to deal with the individual’s disability – especially mental health that requires a specialised service – so therefore the other residents end up being victims of inappropriate people being put into their facility. - Disability advocate Fiona Tipping

Staff of other Ballarat facilities have also told The Courier residents at their facility included people newly released from prison. 

SRS are privately operated and overseen by the state government. SRS set their own fee structure and level of care. 

In some cases proprietors take the residents pension and they are given back a portion as spending money, staff have reported.

Hear one former placement student speak about their experience: 

Ms Tipping of Grampians disAbility Advocacy said the facilities, which often have a hybrid aged care/disability model, were unsuitable for people with mental health conditions. 

“I find that SRS tend to be like boarding places where people just seem to be shoved in willy-nilly. There is a monetary concern there, money is being paid for these services so therein lies the conflict.

“People are pushed in like sardines, their money taken and the staff there are not necessarily trained to deal with the individual’s disability – especially mental health that requires a specialised service – so therefore the other residents end up being victims of inappropriate people being put into their facility.”

There are nine SRS registered in Ballarat however these claims focus on two facilities.

The former staff member of one said residents “weren’t getting the level of care they required”.

“Because the staff were under so much pressure to get so many people organised and they had so much responsibility a lot of corners were cut in terms of the residents health and wellbeing.

Because the staff were under so much pressure to get so many people organised and they had so much responsibility a lot of corners were cut in terms of the residents health and wellbeing. - Former SRS staff member

“The lady with Parkinsons for example, she got to the stage where she knew the staff were so busy she would say it was all right, that her pad didn’t need changing.

“She had pressure sores on her bottom so whenever she urinated in her pad or her pad was wet … It would still seep into the sores and a lot of the time there would be bandages that would need changing and the personal care assistants weren’t doing that either.”

A former placement student at a Ballarat SRS, who was there for six months, said the facility ran rough-shod over residents’ rights.

“There was a lady who was double incontinent, she had a very raw area, (she would be) screaming in the shower because carers were so rough with her. 

“She would say ‘no, that hurts, don’t, don’t touch me’. 

“She did do it to me (scream in the shower) but not to that extent.” 

The former placement student said they were asked to administer medication without appropriate training but refused. 

“I knew there was under-qualified people there. I was one of them.”

The Courier sought a response on the claims from the Department of Human Health Services (DHHS) Victoria.

DHHS said in a statement the department was responsible for monitoring SRS but did not answer specific questions about what mechanisms were in place to ensure adequate and uniform care across facilities. 

The facilities whose former staff came forward in this article are not under investigation, DHHS said.

The Courier has chosen not to name the facilities for legal reasons. 

Understaffed, underpaid

Staff at one Ballarat supported residential services are paid as little as $6.25 an hour, cash in hand, their union told a Senate inquiry into worker exploitation last week.

Health Workers Union research officer Kamal Bekhazi and assistant secretary David Eden.

Health Workers Union research officer Kamal Bekhazi and assistant secretary David Eden.

The Courier has chosen not to name the facility for legal reasons, and has confirmed with former staff they were paid an hourly rate of $12 an hour, and a $100 flat rate for 16 hour overnight shifts. 

If there is an area where people are getting ripped off and underpaid, it is the supported residential services. - Health Workers Union assistant secretary David Eden

“If there is an area where people are getting ripped off and underpaid, it is the SRS,” Health Workers Union assistant secretary David Eden told the inquiry.

“Probably 98 per cent of SRS that I see in the state of Victoria would be avoiding their obligations under the modern award.”

Staff at other SRS in Ballarat have claimed to have been paid cash-in-hand, earning an hourly rate below the modern award, and losing out on penalty rates and loading for weekend and night shifts.

The Fair Work Ombudsman did not respond when asked whether these claims would be investigated.