In an exclusive investigation, The Weekly this month examines the standard of care in the nation's nursing homes, and asks whether there should be a mandatory staff-to-resident ratio, to protect residents from harm.
According to the most recent Report On the Operation of the Aged Care Act 2011 -2012, there are 189,000 people living in 2700 residential aged care facilities, across Australia.
Lynda Saltarelli, of the community-based Aged Care Crisis action team, says many people are amazed, upon embarking on the frustrating process of trying to find a nursing home bed, to discover that there is no mandatory staff-to-resident ratio.
All that is required, under the Aged Care Act 1997, is that each centre provides what is known as an ‘adequate number of appropriately skilled staff’ or ‘sufficient’ staff for the number of residents.
"We have mandated staffing levels in child care centres and kindergartens," Lynda said, "but not in aged care. It's intolerable that frail, older people don't have this protection."
"The requirement is for 'sufficient' care but the word 'sufficient' is certainly open to interpretation. We have staff and family members telling us of instances where there is one carer for every 80 to 100 residents."
The homes themselves generally don't support a mandatory staff-to-resident ratio. Professor John G Kelly, who is CEO of Aged and Community Services Australia, an organisation that represents the homes, says "there needs to be flexibility in the way a provider can allocate staff to meet the needs of the residents."
"It's more important to invest in the staff," says Professor Kelly. Plus, he says, the rules have to allow for a 'cost effective business model' – including for residents, who have to pay the fees.