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Calls for Aged Care Accreditation Revision after Death

June 19, 2014 0 Comments

Following the death of a woman after time in an aged care home, many are calling for a revision of the aged care accreditation process.

Beryl Watson stayed at a aged care home in Kempsey, NSW for three weeks before she passed away. Clive Watson, Mrs Watson’s husband, was forced into a hospital after seeing the need for an operation. With no one to take care of his wife while he was hospitalised, he was forced to place his wife in the care of a nursing home.

When Mr Watson recovered and came to collect his wife, he expected to see his wife just the way she was when she was first placed there. Yet, what he was faced with was a woman who had lost the ability to swallow and who had lost a lot of weight in the three weeks she had been there.

“When I walked in, I was expecting to see the Beryl that I put in there,” Mr Watson said.

“What I saw was, she was thin, she was gaunt, and also they were sucking stuff out of her throat with a pump,” he said. “It was difficult to think or feel anything at the time. Basically I just stood there stunned.”

Michael Barnes, a NSW coroner who looked into the death of Mrs Watson, found that the nursing home was understaffed and made a series of mistakes that contributed to the death of Mrs Watson.

Mrs Watson suffered from dementia and Huntington’s disease. Her husband was her full-time carer. Prior to Mrs Watson’s entry to the home, Mr Watson provided a comprehensive 4-page care plan including a note regarding anti-convulsant medication that “she couldn’t miss”.

But, because the staff did not check for discrepancies in her profile, Mrs Watson was not given her anti-convulsant medication which caused severe withdrawal symptoms. Medical records from the nursing home show that Mrs Watson was agitated, made loud noises, scratched herself, writhed in bed and started biting at her draw sheet.

The coroner also noted that Mrs Watson was not given sufficient food and fluids.

Upon returning home, Mr Watson discovered Beryl’s back and buttocks were covered with weeping bed sores.

“There are no words to say what I felt like at that time and luckily now I had my camera bag. I took photos and I was so cranky,” he said.

Mrs Watson was later admitted to Macksville Hospital suffering from pneumonia and malnutrition, and died 10 days after leaving the nursing home.

“The death was from natural causes, contributed to by a medication error and sub-optimal nursing care,” said the coroner.

Mr Watson is now campaigning for changes to the aged care accreditation system. This was after the litany of mistakes that contributed to the death of his wife of 50 years.

“There were 71 patients at [the nursing home]. 70 of those were in need of high care but there was only one registered nurse,” he said.

“The system is wrong. The training is wrong. The policies and procedures are wrong. The staffing is wrong.”

Mistakes and blunders made by the staff were listed down by the coroner. “In this case the inadequacies in some aspects of the nursing care and the management of Mrs Watson’s admission and discharge warrant consideration from a prevention perspective,” Mr Barnes said.

Mr Watson added, “Obviously the accreditation process needs serious looking at. The staffing levels and the way they are achieved are not acceptable because they’re based on payment, they’re not based on care.”

Charmaine Crowe, NSW Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association representative says nursing homes are understaffed because there are no rules on staff-to-resident ratio. “We have staff-to-resident ratios in our childcare facilities. Why isn’t it good enough to have in aged care facilities?” Ms Crowe questioned.

“Most aged care residents have very complex healthcare needs. If this lack of staffing was witnessed in our hospital system, there would be outrage, but sadly we don’t have decent regulations governing staffing in our nursing home system.”

“There is nothing stopping that facility to revert to very poor staffing levels once those accreditors walk out the door.”

“Nurses have told us that a facility will go to all different lengths to ensure that they impress the inspectors. They’ll change the menu, for example, so that residents are seen to be getting really great food when in reality the standard Monday to Friday fare may well be baked beans on toast.”

Mr Watson has now written to Health Minister Peter Dutton of the Office of Aged Care and also to Opposition health spokeswoman Catherine King to ask for changes to the aged care accreditation system.

“If we don’t get it right now, Beryl is going to be the first of many,” he finished.

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