2021 brings tough new crackdown on aged care abuse 

12 January 2021

New fines for cover-ups of aged care abuse will hit nursing homes this year, after thousands of elderly Australians were bashed or sexually assaulted in 2020, reports The Advertiser.

“Shocking new government data” reveals 103 reportable assaults every week, with 4034 cases of physical and sexual assaults notified to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission (ACQSC) between January and September last year, The Advertiser says.

The aged care watchdog is to be granted tough new powers to punish aged care providers for failing to keep residents safe, through a new Serious Incident Response Scheme (SIRS).

Aged care managers or staff who bully whistle blowers could be fined up to $111,000 – and forced to pay them compensation for victimisation.

Nursing homes must report all cases - and even suspicions - of care workers yelling, name-calling, stealing from residents or failing to help them eat.

The tough new laws, to be debated when Federal Parliament resumes next month, would widen the definition of a “serious incident’’ that must be reported to the ACQSC from April 1.

Currently, aged care homes only need to report “unlawful sexual contact” and “unreasonable use of force’’ – with 15 cases reported every day, The Advertiser says.

They don’t have to report other types of harm, or assaults by elderly residents with dementia or mental illness.

The loophole will close in April, with a wider definition of “serious incident’’ to include yelling at residents, stealing or leaving wounds untreated.

Nursing homes and staff will risk fines for failing to report every “allegation, suspicion or witness account’’ of abuse and neglect to the ACQSC, to combat cover-ups of abuse.

Staff who refuse to hand over documents could be fined up to $6660.

For the first time, nursing homes will be forced to notify the ACQSC of “unexpected deaths’’ from falls or untreated bed sores.

Serious incidents include those listed below.

  • Unreasonable use of force – for example, hitting, pushing, shoving, or rough handling.
  • Unlawful sexual contact or inappropriate sexual conduct – such as sexual threats or stalking, or sexual activities without consent.
  • Neglect – includes withholding personal care, untreated wounds, or insufficient assistance during meals.
  • Psychological or emotional abuse – such as yelling, name calling, ignoring a consumer, threatening gestures or refusing a consumer access to care or services as a means of punishment.
  • Unexpected death – in the event of a fall, untreated pressure injury, or the actions of a consumer result in the death of another consumer.
  • Stealing or coercion by a staff member – for example, if a staff member coerces a consumer to change their will to their advantage, or steals valuables from the consumer.
  • Inappropriate physical or chemical restraint – for example, where physical or chemical restraint is used without prior consent or without notifying the consumer’s representative as soon as practicable; where physical restraint is used in a non-emergency situation; or when a provider issues a drug to a consumer to influence their behaviour as a form of chemical restraint.
  • Unexplained absence from care – this occurs when the consumer is absent from the service, it is unexplained and has been reported to the police.

Under the SIRS, an allegation, suspicion, or witness account of any of the above serious incidents must be reported to the Commission.

Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner Janet Anderson said ACQSC had fielded 4867 reports of alleged unreasonable use of force and 816 allegations of unlawful sexual contact against nursing home residents in 2019/20. She said the allegations were “matters for police’’.

Ms Anderson told The Advertiser the new reporting requirements would help nursing homes minimise the risk of harm, and “respond promptly and effectively’’ to serious incidents.