NURSING HOME HELL: A heartbreaking dispatch from the trenches
Screams of agony, broken bones, missed medications, incontinence pad shortages, a dying patient left to sleep on the floor – and all billed to taxpayers at over $75,000 a head. Kylie Kilroy has entered an aged care facility at just 54 due to a terminal illness. She is blowing the whistle to help the voiceless. Anthony Klan reports.
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A Queensland aged care facility accused of systemic abuse of its elderly residents is run by one of the nation’s richest families – major LNP donors – and last year received over $6 million from taxpayers, more than $75,000 for every resident.
Farmer Kylie Kilroy, 54, has blown the whistle on private nursing giant TriCare and its 81-bed “supported living” facility in Toowoomba, west of Brisbane, saying it is vastly understaffed and residents are being systemically neglected and put in danger.
“Residents aren’t getting showered, some are going a week without – buzzers are going off and staff can’t spread themselves around enough to answer them,” Kilroy told The Klaxon last week.
“Staff are sick of the conditions and the way residents are treated.”
Hours after Kilroy told us this she was shifted out of the facility to Toowoomba Base Hospital by ambulance.
Kylie Kilroy – blowing the whistle on alleged elder abuse. Pic: Kylie Kilroy
There had been no change to her health – Kilroy says TriCare management had evicted her for blowing the whistle.
The East Toowoomba aged care home is one of at least 14 run by TriCare, one of the nation’s biggest “private” – but still massively publicly funded – aged care operators.
Federal Government records show the East Toowoomba facility alone received $6.08m from taxpayers in the 12 months to June last year.
That is just over $75,000 for each of its 81 beds – and that’s assuming the facility was full.
TriCare is run by rich-listers the O’Shea family, who in 2013 (the last time it was publicly reported), were estimated to have a net worth of $335m.
The aged care sector has been dogged by controversy for decades, but in the early 2000’s the Coalition, under then Prime Minister John Howard, changed the law, allowing for the proliferation of “private” aged care operators.
Exploitation in the sector has exploded.
Billions of dollars of taxpayer funds are directed to the sector every year, but there is very little accountability about where that money actually goes once it ends up in private hands.
It’s highly lucrative business.
The enormously wealthy O’Shea family, who run TriCare and receive tens of millions of dollars a year of public money, refused to comment last week when repeatedly approached by The Klaxon.
Peter and John O’Shea, who run the conglomerate, appear to be far cosier with the LNP than they are with the media and public.
In the 2017 financial year they were the second biggest donors to Queensland’s LNP, each “donating” $35,000 cash to the party.
In the two years to 2017 the two brothers “donated” $130,000 to the LNP.
That money paid to the LNP suggests it is unlikely the Federal Government will move against the company, as highlighted by the Coalition’s long-standing refusal to launch a royal commission into banking or to take action against rampant gouging in the superannuation industry.
The banks and for-profit, or “retail” super funds are major donors to the Coalition.
Despite TriCare being based in Brisbane – and the fact that Peter and John live in Queensland – the company is legally (ie on paper) registered as existing on Norfolk Island.
Until 2016 Norfolk Island was an internationally declared tax haven and “secrecy jurisdiction”.
Since 2016 the laws have tightened marginally – but TriCare still does not file its full accounts to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, like other Australian businesses.
Any pre-2016 “investments” made via companies registered on Norfolk Island avoid capital gains tax entirely.
Last Tuesday Kilroy posted a series of allegations to Twitter, including that “cries of pain” were left unanswered and that residents buzzing for help were not receiving it.
“I’m breaking….Cries of pain unanswered,” Kilroy wrote.
“Sheets not changed. Showers a luxury. This is my punishment.”
Kilroy says that the following day, on Wednesday, TriCare management came to her room with a printed out copy of her Tweet.
“They went through everything in my Tweet and questioned me about it, what I’d written,” she said.
“I backed it all up”.
Kylie Kilroy’s Tweet.
Coalition MP John McVeigh, the local federal member, had been alerted to the Tweet and had contacted the management of the Toowoomba facility.
“I don’t know why he didn’t just ask to speak to me directly, instead of putting me in to them about the Tweet,” Kilroy tells The Klaxon.
“It’s pretty obvious by him not doing that that he was out to make trouble for me.”
Kilroy said McVeigh had been able to track down the facility, despite her having not mentioned the name of the home, and her Twitter account being “anonymous, in as much as my last name isn’t on there”.
In a written response to questions from The Klaxon, McVeigh said his office on Wednesday had become aware of a “detailed public Twitter feed than included serious allegations of poor service”.
He said he had reported the home to the national regulator and to the office of Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck.
“In line with formal protocols we were obliged to immediately contact the facility to put those public allegations to them and promptly referred the matter to the Aged Care Quality & Safety Commission and the Office of the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians,” McVeigh said.
“We have today (Friday) also referred seperate anonymous allegations about the same facility from other parties late Thursday 30th July.”
Kilroy’s situation had been covered by Win News Toowoomba in a TV program which aired on Thursday evening.
At 54, Kilroy is one of the nation’s youngest aged care residents and she sees herself in a position to speak out, when many of her fellow residents can’t.
She acquired a lung disease, Nontuberculous Mycobacteria, after cleaning up flood waters on her St George property.
Her property had been flooded by a dam break at neighbouring station Kia Ora.
That property was both owned and managed by companies associated with embattled federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor.
“I’m 54 and I’m dying,” Kilroy says.
“But not soon enough to be in a hospice, and I can’t go home as my husband can’t care for me.”
Kilroy was moved to the Toowoomba facility on July 10.
“This isn’t about me, it’s about helping these poor old buggers and the staff,” she says.
“I’ve already seen today a change.
“Staff are running around like blue-arsed flies….management is in damage control.”
Kilroy said that of the complaints listed in her Tweet, her claims regarding poor food quality were “about all they tried to deny”.
“I told them it was too salty and not fresh,” Kilroy says.
“They said some residents had requested more salt be put in – instead of giving them a fucking salt shaker!”
Regarding her complains about unclean sheets, TriCare management told her sheets were “changed weekly”.
“I told them mine hadn’t been changed since I’d been here, Kilroy says.
“They were changed this morning.”
TriCare residence, Curzon Street Toowoomba. Pic: Kath Turner
Kilroy says the problems are not with staff, who were generally “fantastic” but with management, which employed far too few carers and nurses in order to maximise profits.
“Staff are great, the place is just understaffed,” she says.
“They are running at times to try to get things done.”
Staff were so flat-out that at times they forgot to administer medications and even to replenish stocks of incontinence pads.
“Those who are capable of changing their own pads are being left without pads to change into, residents are in tears being unable to change,” Kilroy says.
She says a resident in the room beside her “cries out in agony” multiple times a day and night.
“They (staff) told me there was nothing they could do as the family had requested nothing be done…that they had requested one of those ‘end of life’ agreements where you just die so they won’t take him to hospital,” she said.
“He broke his hip four weeks ago, he keeps climbing out of the bed and hurting himself.
“The ambulance came two nights ago but wouldn’t take him to hospital because of this agreement which is in place.”
Kilroy said the beds in the Toowoomba facility weren’t sufficient to prevent the man from hurting himself.
“Staff aren’t happy…they’ve left him on the floor some nights so he doesn’t hurt himself” — Kylie Kilroy
“The beds aren’t high enough to keep him in and they aren’t allowed to tie him in. It’s a pretty shit situation.
Kilroy said she had been moved from the facility to Toowoomba Base Hospital because “TriCare requested I be moved”.
“It was nothing to do with my health,” she says.
“The ambulance officers who had to move me said it was another strike against TriCare.
“One of them said they had to be called there this year for a very badly broken elbow from a fall – due to a lack of supervision.”
Kilroy said staff had thanked her for speaking out.
She said many were afraid to talk publicly for fear of losing their jobs.
On Thursday morning we called TriCare’s head office in Mt Gravatt, Brisbane.
The receptionist told us all management were in Coronavirus related meetings “all week”.
She said the company had received a number of calls from the media.
(In a follow-up call Friday we were told that management would “maybe” respond “next week”.)
Kilroy says she was moved from the TriCare facility to Toowoomba Base Hospital for the wrong reasons – but she is more than happy with the move.
“It suits me just fine,” she says.
And she is satisfied for having spoken up.
“No one bullies me and gets away with it.”
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