THE fearful rise in aged care deaths, overwhelmingly in private nursing homes, is highlighting a rotten scandal in the sector where facilities are chronically understaffed and lack the clinical expertise to make the right decisions about their residents’ health.

But as distressing as the coronavirus death toll is in residential aged care in Victoria, it comes as no surprise to long-time campaigner Jane Seaholme of Korumburra.

Ms Seaholme, who has almost single-handedly collected 350,000 signatures for a petition she posted on change.org, calling on government to “mandate skilled aged care staff to resident ratios”, says vulnerable residents have been dying in serious numbers for years in private aged care.

“Unfortunately, tragically this is nothing new,” Ms Seaholme said today.

“Whenever there has been a flu outbreak or other viral illness, residents have died in big numbers in aged care but nothing changes,” Ms Seaholme said.

She said far from legislating skilled staff to resident ratios in proper numbers, the Commonwealth Government had actually made it easier for the owners of aged care facilities to divert public funding into private profits rather than improve care and conditions.

In a prophetic assessment of the situation, posted seven years ago when she launched her petition on change.org, Jane foreshadowed what was coming.

While investigating problems experienced with her “darling mum” Phyllis’ care, she found entrenched and dangerous deficiencies:

“When I complained, the aged care facility threatened me with an intervention order and 10 years jail for stalking. And when I spoke out about that, people got in touch sharing horror stories of neglect and abuse and thanked me for speaking out – the common thread was shortage of staff and inadequate basic care leading to neglect.

“Many of the elderly and their families won’t complain for fear of retribution. This is when I realised the lack of staff ratios was a huge problem. With no mandated staff/resident ratios in aged care facilities across Australia, our elders are at risk of abuse and neglect.

“What I see is a system that needs changing. Over-worked staff are stressed and undervalued.

“In many aged care homes, one staff member can care for 20 or more residents with residents waiting for long periods to receive the care they urgently need by overstretched carers and nurses who feel that they can never get the job done.”

As well as launching her petition, in her mother’s memory seven years ago, Jane was also invited to speak at a Community Forum ahead of the Royal Commission into Aged Care last year to again raise these issues.

Government, at all levels, can’t say they didn’t know.

Those interested can still sign Jane’s petition at change.org. So far 349,956 have signed with the new goal of half a million.

On Tuesday, July 28 the dire situation in aged care in Victoria, where more than 80 facilities have a total of 769 active coronavirus cases, caused a meltdown in the system with the Army called in, seriously ill residents shifted into hospitals after previously being denied access and most elective surgery cancelled as the State Government scrambled to respond.

Meanwhile a blame game has broken out between Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews and Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt, Mr Andrews firing the first salvos, accusing the Commonwealth of dereliction of duty and Mr Hunt firing back saying it was all down to the “catastrophic hotel quarantine breaches” which left many workplaces and communities in Victoria at the mercy of out-of-control social transmission.