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Covid-19’s Devastating Impact on Older People in Australia

Failing Aged Care Facilities Risk Lives of Residents and Staff

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on people living in nursing facilities around the world, including in Australia. On August 10, the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety will hold a hearing on “lessons learnt” on Covid-19 in aged care.

These lessons couldn’t come soon enough.

In the state of Victoria, there are currently a reported 1,186 active Covid-19 cases in aged care facilities, and according to the federal government, 125 out of 147 deaths there are related to residential aged care facilities. Many outbreaks in aged care facilities were “preventable,” according to experts. Reported staffing shortages at many aged care facilities, and reported undelivered staff trainings in applying personal protective equipment have hampered an effective response.

More than half of the people living in aged care facilities in Australia have dementia. Human Rights Watch has investigated abuses in aged care facilities in Australia and published a report in October 2019 that found that instead of providing support to older people with dementia, facilities use drugs to control their behavior.

The pandemic has shone a light on issues that were already acute in aged care facilities, especially insufficient staffing and inadequate community-based models of care. To address these issues, the government should immediately act to ensure there are enough trained staff in aged care facilities. The government should develop more community-based services for older people with dementia to ensure support for older people to live independently in their communities, including at home.

Last week, Human Rights Watch made a submission to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety on some of the earlier issues around the pandemic and aged care facilities, including the impact of visitor bans during Covid-19 on older people with dementia. The people we talked to were worried and exhausted, having gone through months without contact with their loved ones. Their stories are heartbreaking, and it doesn’t have to be this way.

Particularly during a pandemic, older people living in facilities really need accountability and a concrete plan that provides support for them to live where and with whom they choose.

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