Indigenous Aged Care

On the night of June 14 2007, in the remote Aboriginal community of Docker River, Mrs Brumby, a dementia sufferer fell into an open fire and was severely burnt, dying the next day in Alice Springs Hospital (news report). There were no staff overnight at the facility. There are over 30 Flexible Aged Care services caring for Indigenous Australians around Australia.

For you city folk stressing about your emergency services: It was nearly nine hours before she reached Alice Springs Hospital for treatment.

It was a very sad affair, but it did focus the government’s mind on remote Indigenous Aged Care, particularly the under-funding of these facilities with an immediate $46mil promised for upgrading facility and appropriate levels of staff. However it is one thing having funds to employ an appropriate level of staff. They also need somewhere to live. If you say it is shared accommodation you won’t get applicants. So housing for staff also needs to be looked at.

A discussion on standards for Indigenous Aged Care facilities (currently exempt – in my view as a way to ensure appropriate funding need not be given over many years) is a whole separate post, with the cultural requirements (i.e. prefer to share rooms, dogs, fire among many) to be considered.

Not all remote communities or areas have an aged care and elderly patients may have to be moved a long way from country, their spiritual home, for care. It is also difficult to bring palliative care patients home to die “on country”. A few days ago an increase in funding of $863,000 for Home and Community Care (HACC) services in the Northern Territory was announced. This is part of a larger package but this amount looks pretty piddly when you look at the cost of delivering services in remote communities. But then we don’t know how much of this would be used in Darwin or Alice Springs.

HACC services out bush are invaluable. At it’s best local Indigenous Australians are employed to care after their own community. The services provided are quite extensive from the provision of meals, transport, assistance with hygiene (showers etc) ensuring medications have been taken among many. It delays the time our senior citizens have to move from home and country.

Also on the right track is funding to provide employment for

* 274 positions in Home and Community Care (HACC) Services; and
* 45 positions in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Flexible Aged Care services.

These are all permanent part time positions. There is no mention of flexibility in the funding as to whether it will allow employees time to attend funerals or cultural activities (business). Again, I am unsure of how many of these will be in the bush. As part of the package training will be provided on site. Again I wonder about the accommodation available to house them in remote communities.

These jobs and the extra funding for HACC and Aged Care are long overdue. They are needed in a wider area than just the Northern Territory. I have some concerns about the money provided through the Intervention (or Northern Territory Emergency Response as it is now called). My view is this is done to make it look like the Intervention is producing results. However this whole response was built around the fabrication of keeping kids safe and healthier. More on that perhaps in a later post.

The Investigative report conducted by the Aged Care Commissioner into the death at Docker River can be found here

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Robbo is a pharmacist working with a very remote Aboriginal Health Service in the deserts of Western Australia. + Andrew Robbo Roberts

3 thoughts on “Indigenous Aged Care”

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  3. Along with Elder care come concerns for potential abuse and neglect. Can’t begin to imagine how this is handled in Aboriginal communities. Saddens me when elders are torn away from the little comfort they have known only to be placed more miserable conditions. People including Aboriginal people if hopefully outreach programmes like yours, continue, are living longer. We owe the indigent whose lives and lands we have destroyed, compassionate comfortable care in their own environment. I can only hope and dream for progress and quality help for Aboriginal people and all the indigent in society. If quality health care in remote areas continues I see a better future. Aboriginal children will have a chance to grow up healthier, living longer, comfortable lives. They will be able to continue the heritage of their ancestors. If Aboriginal communities are left to rot so is any future for true survival of their culture. Once gone it’s gone. Extinct. We can do something about this!

    Very much appreciate this post. Hope to see more progress and concern from caring white folk, willing to right the wrongs of their ancestors. Good work Robbo.

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