CONCERNS about Opal Aged Care, the subject of a damning ‘730’ investigation on ABC TV in August this year, have hit home at Opal Seahaven in Inverloch, one of the 70 residential aged care facilities owned by the group nationwide.
The firm, which accommodates 6000 aged residents nationally, boasting a 95 per cent occupancy rate, made a profit of $55 million last year.
But in a statement made in State Parliament last week, outspoken Liberal MP for the Upper House seat of Western Metropolitan, Bernie Finn, has named Opal Seahaven at Inverloch, accusing it of “disgusting and inexcusable” treatment of some of its residents.
He made the allegations, under parliamentary privilege, during an Adjournment Debate on Tuesday, October 31.
Here in part is what he had to say:
“I wish to raise a matter this evening for the Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation, and it concerns a matter that has come to my attention very recently. A major 110-bed nursing home exists in Inverloch and is the home of elderly and, in many cases, feeble and immobile residents. It is owned and operated by Opal Aged Care and is known as Opal Seahaven, Inverloch. Many of the residents are between 90 and 100 years of age and are very frail,” he said.
“Over recent months a refurbishment of 40 bathrooms has been underway in this facility, which has involved stripping out in their entirety six bathrooms at a time. The strip-out removes all toilets, hand basins and showers, then the floor tiles are jackhammered out. You can imagine the noise, the dust and the mess.
“The residents are woken early and removed from their rooms at 7am, allowing tradies to work unrestricted all day up to 4pm, following which, amazingly, residents are returned to their rooms. Unfortunately the cleaners at this facility finish their shift at 3pm. That is something that is of major concern.
“It was with disbelief that I learned that these elderly, vulnerable residents are still occupying these rooms whilst this several-week renovation takes place — much of the day, all night and all weekend living in their room, with no toilet, no hand basin, no shower — zero facilities. This is a disgrace.”
He went on to say that the problems were compounded over a recent long weekend when he alleges affected residents didn’t have access to their own ensuite toilets.
He says the residents have been treated poorly during the refurbishment works, when he claims the Opal group has “clearly put profit before people” and in their twilight years they deserve better, he said.
“A full inquiry by the state government is needed to ensure that this situation is rectified and, perhaps just as importantly, that it is never allowed to happen again.”
He has asked the relevant Minister to investigate although the issue of aged care is almost exclusively an issue for the Federal Government.
A spokesman for the family of one of the frail, elderly residents affected by the refurbishment incident has welcomed Mr Finn’s statement in parliament last week:
“He is spot on with what he said. It is a disgrace and hopefully the exposure it receives will bring change to ensure it never happens again.”
It may already have done so.
Opal Aged Care has since responded to the concerns, acknowledged there have been problems and has reviewed its policies around refurbishment.
“Opal Aged Care is committed to upgrading and refurbishing older homes to meet the comfort and physical needs of residents. The final stage of a significant capital update of Opal Seahaven is underway which includes upgrades to the ensuites of 40 single rooms in the oldest section of the home. This work is important and we are aiming to complete it as quickly as possible as we also recognise that these improvements can be disruptive to the comfort of our residents. This aim drove our initial approach to management of the works.
“Residents whose ensuites were being upgraded over a 2-3 week period vacated their rooms on those days when works were undertaken. The builders conducted a handover procedure every afternoon to ensure their room was clean before the residents returned. During this time, residents had access to a vacant room with bathroom and toilet facilities in close proximity to their rooms. At no point were residents left without access to shower and toilet facilities.
“Opal acted quickly to address the concerns raised by one family around these upgrade works. Due to this feedback, we also reviewed our policy for our improvement works in the future and we have undertaken to move residents to vacant rooms for the duration of such works.
“This approach is being followed for the final two stages of ensuite upgrades at Seahaven, which are expected to conclude in December.”
The family member who spoke to the Sentinel-Times asked that his name not be used in case his comments should reflect on his mother-in-law’s care.
He says the situation not only caused distress and confusion his wife’s 97 year old mother but had also been very upsetting for the family.
He said his wife had gone to Seahaven at Inverloch few weeks ago to visit her mother but instead of finding her in her room where she took most of her meals and spent most of her time, she found wandering around in the passage, confused and looking for a toilet.
“They’d ripped her own toilet out days earlier and there was a block of wood screwed to the top of the toilet door so you couldn’t get in there.”
The family member alleged that there were no spare rooms for affected residents and some had to lie on beds in common areas all day while the work progress.
He claimed it was a financial decision to keep any vacant rooms clear for new residents, preserving occupancy figures, rather making them available to residents.
In answer to Bernie Finn’s comments in parliament last week, Victorian Government Ministers say it is exclusively a matter for the Federal Government.
In response to a series of problems in aged care recently, Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt said last month that aged care facilities across Australia would be subjected to “relentless” unannounced spot-checks by federal authorities under tougher government audit rules designed to stamp out abuse and neglect.