Concerns raised about investigation of premature deaths in aged care facilities.

One day after this and other sites posted about Joseph Ibrahim’s calls to investigate the causes of what a coroner’s report called premature deaths in aged care two other articles have surfaced regarding the same issue.

Falls in residential aged care facilities

In an article in the Medical Journal of Australia Dr. Stephen Judd, chief executive of Hammond care- an aged care provider, discusses potential consequences if nursing home regulation were to be tighten in an attempt to lessen premature deaths from falls.

“If staff think they are going to get rapped over the knuckles if Mary falls over when she goes outside, they’ll lock the door so she can’t get out,” he said.

“All life is about risk; we have to encourage people to enjoy life, not just keep themselves hermetically sealed in a life of boredom,” he said. “Rather than trying to eliminate risks, we must manage risks intelligently.”

Interestingly I wonder if Dr. Judd is aware that most nursing homes do have locks on exterior doors to prevent residents with dementia from travelling outside? From my experience in aged care many, if not most falls, occur in the resident’s bedroom when the patient is found close to their bed. While I have not statistics evidencing this fact, I am sure Dr. Ibrahim’s report would reveal this.

Additionally, I also find it interesting that Dr. Judd stated that ‘staff’ would be responsible for denying freedom for fear of retaliation. Staff of nursing homes answer to the corporate bodies of said homes, so wouldn’t the fear they would be reacting to not come from the disciplinary action from corporate executives should preventable deaths not reduce? The article also reiterates the principles that I discussed in my previous post regarding the role of residential aged care. There exists a conflict between patient safety and freedom of choice. If a resident is unsteady on their feet and a falls risk but fiercely independent and wants to walk around a facility, does that facility have a right to restrain the resident to reduce falls?

Suicide prevention in residential aged care

Yesterday an article in the Australian Ageing Agenda by  Darragh O’Keeffe discusses the federal government’s stalemate on a decision of how to allow residents of Residential Aged Care Facilities (RACFs) to access the Better Access to Mental Health scheme (BAMH). The BAMH scheme, according to the federal Department of Health’s website

” Medicare rebates are available to patients for selected mental health services provided by general practitioners (GPs), psychiatrists, psychologists (clinical and registered) and eligible social workers and occupational therapists.”

However, according to Dr Margot McCarthy, deputy secretary of ageing and aged care, there is still discussion around how the scheme would be made available to residents in care facilities.

If an elderly member of the community was having depressive thoughts surely the GP would jump at the chance of engaging in this service to allow more treatment options for their patients. The same should be true for residents living in aged care facilities. The Medicare funding does change when a person goes into RACF care, however that should not change the available services to them. I hope that in the near future the Department of Health and Department of ageing and aged care can come to an agreement and make this valuable service available for residents in RACF homes, thereby moving towards reducing preventable deaths related to mental health conditions.

What does this mean for nursing staff and residents?

While the powers-at-be continue to struggle with how to research and tackle the issue of ‘premature deaths’ nursing staff in aged care facilities will continue to be in the firing line. Without clear-cut guidelines their actions and assessments will put the responsibility for minimizing the risks sits squarely on them. For residents and families the falls, suicides and choking will continue until the federal government and corporate aged care executives agree on a standard measure along with established preventative measures to minimize, and hopefully, eliminate the term premature deaths in aged care from existence.

References

The Medical Journal of Australia: Aged care falls deaths: a question of balance

The Australian Aged Agenda: No end in sight to aged care’s mental health blockage

The Department of Health: Better access to mental health care: fact sheet for patients

 

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Australia, better healthcare than America- absolutely!

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I came across this article and had to write about it. Marie Shieh, a doctor trained in America and now practices in Australia, has written a piece for the The Telegraph. In it she states emphatically that Australia’s health care is better than Americas. Full stop, no qualifiers. And as a former consumer and provider of America’s healthcare system I can agree.

Confession: my road to becoming a registered nurse started because of poor quality healthcare that my father received before his death. We were poor, not living on the streets poor, but we did not have a lot of money. My parents owned a printing business, and we did not have health insurance. When I was young my father was diagnosed with diabetes, then cancer and finally a heart condition. Because we did not have health insurance all of these medical conditions were treated very conservatively and without extensive examination. I believe, as a consequence of that, he suffered a major heart attack and died prematurely.

Now I know that he contributed to his condition with smoking and being overweight. But a lack of medical care significantly contributed to his death. From that moment on I was destined to be in healthcare, despite my attempts to move away from it. I have worked in palliative (hospice in America) care in the U.S. and now work in the Australian hospital system.

We have an amazing healthcare system. Yes, it is over-budget. Yes, there is over-crowding and never enough beds in our hospitals. Yes, people do (at times) come into emergency departments for things that could just as well be handled at their own doctors. But our system allows for every Australian the chance to have optimal health and to be free of medical issues, or at least have them treated to the best that our medical and nursing care can offer without fear of being unable to pay for such treatment.

I have always said that the Australian healthcare system would not work in America. The current push to repeal ‘Obamacare’ as it is called exemplifies this. Americans feel that they should be self-sufficient. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. Health insurance plans are out there to assist with costs. However, the American attitude of “if you can’t afford it we won’t pay for it” still leads to a class-based healthcare system. If you have money then you have health. As a nurse and believer in healthcare that is not right. Health is part of Maslow’s basic needs, and I feel it should be offered as a right just as security in the form of police and safety with firefighters.

maslow-pyramid

Maslow’s heirachy of needs- image source

Alas I do not feel that America will change their ways. The core beliefs of self-sufficiency go all the way back to revolutionary times. I am proud to say I am an Australian registered nurse. I am proud to say that the healthcare I and the thousands of other dedicated workers allows everyday Australians peace of mind and can allow us to continue to prosper.

 

The Telegraph: Trump is right about Australian health care, an American doctor in Australia says

Privacy concern or valuable tool: all Aussies can have an e-health record, would you?


The ABC network has written that with a new surge in federal funding the My Health Record project looks to provide all Australians with the ability to have an electronic health summary. This is a follow-on from other E-health projects trying to establish similar results. While I can understand the apprehension noted by some with regards to privacy and sharing of health information from a healthcare worker’s perspective it is a great leap forward.



In my history as a registered nurse I remember the days before electronic health records. The nature of our health system in Australia means that an individual can present at numerous public and private health institutions without any ability of those institutions knowing prior medical treatment. This is a safety concern for the patient at worst and could potentially prolong the time for effective treatment in the least.


With the implementation of the local electronic health record if I am looking after a patient who has visited another health facility within the same area, state, or even nationally connected the doctor and I can see previous treatments and tests, allowing for more accurate diagnosis and treatment. Expanding this nationally would allow those visiting or recently moved to the area to have better quality care by allowing information sharing.


It is also better for the GP. Now general practitioners must rely on discharge summaries for information about hospital treatment. However, with the electronic record the GP could access more complete information from hospital visits, aiding in their continuation of care at home. A GP could also review and place information for patients on the record in case they travel or are too sick to speak for themselves, vital information which could save their life.


There is always a potential for abuse of the system. However, I would trust that the powers-at-be would design safeguards to prevent unauthorized information sharing of electronic health records. I, for one, will be happy to welcome this advancement in Australian healthcare. According to the ABC report individuals would be allowed to ‘opt out’ of the program.

ABC news: Everyone to have a digital health record