The Coalition’s aged care minister Richard Colbeck cut a remarkable scene yesterday, walking out of the Australian parliament rather than face questions about the unfolding disasters in his portfolio. It was a wretched scene for parliamentary democracy. Our investigation reveals his aged care regulator is in shambles. Anthony Klan reports.
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Its Commissioner doesn’t know the name of the Queensland home at the centre of an ongoing major abuse scandal; it doesn’t know if any action was taken over an almost identical scandal at the same home in 2012 – because it doesn’t have the records; and the results of the aged care home “audits” it conducts across the board now exclude key details.
Meet the Morrison Government’s new Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission.
As the Federal Opposition today ramped-up its calls for Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck to be sacked after he walked out of Federal Parliament in a spectacular display, we can reveal the Commission – launched by Colbeck in January – is in turmoil.
Just a week after Colbeck stunned an aged care parliamentary inquiry by being unable to say how many residents had died of coronavirus, it can be revealed Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner Janet Anderson has incorrectly identified the Tri-Care Toowoomba facility as instead being one operating 120km away in an entirely different city.
The TriCare Toowoomba Aged Care Residence is at the centre of a mounting scandal after a group of its own nurses and carers in June wrote to TriCare senior management, blowing the whistle on systemic abuse and neglect of residents, including that a “very poor quality of care” was being provided, that laws were being systemically broken, and that residents were being put in danger.
Extremely serious stuff.
Last month resident Kylie Kilroy blew the whistle on the home, one of 15 run by tax-haven based (for tax purposes only) TriCare private aged care giant and formal complaints were lodged with the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, including by local federal member John McVeigh.
On July 31 McVeigh told us “in line with formal protocols” he had reported Kilroy’s concerns – along with other serious complaints he had received about the same home – to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission and directly to Colbeck’s office.
On August 14, two weeks later, in response to questions about the Toowoomba TriCare facility, Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission chief Anderson told us an “unannounced assessment contact” had been conducted at the home on August 5.
But in the written response, Anderson said the facility was actually called the “TriCare Sunnybank Hills Aged Care Residence”.
“As a result of recent intelligence received, the Commission conducted and unannounced assessment contact at TriCare Sunnybank Hills Aged Care Residence (previously known as TriCare Toowoomba Aged Care Residence) on 5 August 2020,” the response from Anderson said.
It continued: “Additionally, on 13 August, the Commission conducted an unannounced spot check at TriCare Sunnybank Hills Aged Care Residence as part of its infection control monitoring activities during the COVID-19 pandemic”.
This made little sense – given Sunnybank Hills is a suburb in Brisbane’s south, about 120km east of Toowoomba.
We contacted both the Toowoomba and Sunnybank Hills facilities and neither was aware of the apparent name change.
The TriCare Toowoomba Aged Care Residence: Very much in Toowoomba. Source: Kath Turner
On Monday August 17 we wrote to the Commission pointing this out: no name changes appeared to have been filed with corporate regulator the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, there were no changes to TriCare’s website or to the signage of either the Toowoomba or the Sunnybank Hills TriCare homes.
We sought further information about the Toowoomba TriCare home, including whether any action had been taken after near identical allegations of systemic resident abuse were made about the same home back in 2012.
Now, another response came with statements from Anderson: “TriCare Toowoomba Aged Care Residence has not changed its name to TriCare Sunnybank Hills Aged Care Residence,” it said.
“This is the result of an administrative error on the aged care Quality and Safety Commission website, which has been corrected,” the statement from Anderson said.
(There was no response regarding the 2012 abuse allegations).
On Wednesday August 19 we went back again. We needed more details about how this had occurred.
Beyond a “clerical error” in the first instance, how could the federal aged care regulator, amid an ongoing scandal at the Toowoomba home and the national Coronavirus pandemic – not to mention the ongoing Royal Commission into Aged Care as well as a parliamentary inquiry – continue to fail to correctly identify the home?
The names of aged care homes and the names of their associated “providers” is extremely relevant legally – the way legislation is written, it is “providers” who are policed.
The private TriCare runs and owns 15 homes, but it has designated different “provider” names to almost all of them, meaning if one provider is found to have done the wrong thing it’s completely seperate to the others.
“The records requested for TriCare Toowoomba Aged Care Residence fall outside the records system that was transferred to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission”
— Janet Anderson
We also asked – had Anderson actually seen and approved the previous official statements attributed to her?
Two days later we received a response.
“Ms Anderson does review any public statements that are attributed to her,” the regulator said.
An accompanying statement from Anderson said: “The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission recently received notice of change of service name on 19 June 2020 to change the name of Toowoomba Aged Care Residence to TriCare Toowoomba Aged Care Residence.”
“On June 22, a clerical error was made when changing the name on the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission website.
“This administrative error had no impact on the Commission’s monitoring of TriCare Toowoomba Aged Care Residence or any internal records,” the statement said.
The apparent blunder is particularly jarring for TriCare Toowoomba’s whistleblowing nursers and carers: they were forced to push the matter publicly because TriCare’s senior management didn’t even bother responding to the detailed, nine-page, June 24 letter that expressed their serious concerns.
This extends to the watchdog even sending posters to aged care homes advertising upcoming inspections.
TriCare Toowoomba received a 100% passmark after an official audit late last year.
It’s received 100% on every inspection over the past decade.
Even if inspections were being adequately carried out (which it’s almost certain they’re not) under the Coalition even the reporting requirements of audits have been wound back, further reducing the already dire lack of transparency around private – but publicly funded – aged care operators.
Every three years aged care operators must apply to be “audited” in order to be reaccredited and so continue receiving public money.
Along with its results (100%), the audit of the 2016 TriCare Toowoomba home includes standard information such as the names of the inspectors; the total number of resident places; the number of care recipients; the number receiving “high care”’ and the special needs catered for, such as dementia.
The 2019 audit of TriCare Toowoomba includes its results (100%) but none of that other information.
In the year to June 2018 TriCare received $77.7m from the Federal Government to operate its aged care homes, with the Toowoomba facility alone delivering TriCare over $6m in public funds in the 2019 financial year alone.
TriCare is based in Brisbane but has for the past 50 years been “based” – for tax purposes only – on Norfolk Island, which is a tax haven.
Given the allegations of systemic gaming, and that TriCare Toowoomba has received scores of 100% on its audits for over a decade, the matter of the almost identical 2012 allegations of serious abuse at the Toowoomba home is even more important.
On August 13 we asked about these 2012 allegations and whether any action had been taken. We asked again on August 17.
On August 18 we received a response:
“On 1 January 2020, the responsibility for aged care regulatory compliance functions transitioned from the Department of Health to the Commission,” a statement from Anderson said.
“The records requested for TriCare Toowoomba Aged Care Residence fall outside the records system that was transferred to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, and remain within the purview of the Department of Health.”
So the watchdog doesn’t even have the records of the TriCare Toowoomba home and two months in to a scandal at the facility – including allegedly having conducting audits there – it hasn’t even bothered getting them?
Another response from Anderson: “The Commission can, and does, access records of historical compliance activity as required where they are held by the Department of Health to inform its current regulatory activities”.
So, we went back to them again. Given the Commission can, and does, access records of historical compliance activity as required – what actions, if any, were taken against the Toowoomba Tri Care facility as a result of the allegations of serious abuse in 2012?
That was a week ago, on August 21.
We have heard nothing from the Federal Government’s aged care regulator or from Anderson since.
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