Reg, 70, was just a boy when he discovered his father’s body following his suicide.
This trauma compounded into multiple vulnerabilities that have endured throughout Reg’s life, including work and age-related impairments, illiteracy and poor telephone skills, which limit his ability to connect with other people.
Reg was discharged from a hospital rehabilitation facility into an aged care home just as concerns about Covid-19 were beginning to heighten. As social distancing became the norm Reg found himself confined to his room at the aged care facility, completely starved of human contact.
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted upon life all over the world, but older Australians have been hit particularly hard. At a time when aged care facilities have applied blanket restrictions on outside visitors and confined residents to their own rooms for weeks at a time, they have provided few options to mitigate this extreme form of social isolation.
Because of the introduction of the Queensland Human Rights Act at the beginning of this year, Queenslanders can expect that when decisions are made by public entities, including some aged care facilities, their human rights will be observed. During a pandemic several rights are simultaneously engaged. In Reg’s situation, they were the right to life and the right to freedom of movement. Restrictions on visitations and being confined to one’s room may be a necessary infringement on individual human rights for the safety of all residents. However, the Act envisages that when there are restrictions on individual rights, they should be proportionate to the situation and represent the least restrictions required. At a time when human rights are strained, such as during a natural disaster or during this pandemic, decision-makers need to be working hard to get the balance right.
Older persons are quite disempowered in aged care settings. Their ability to negotiate individual supports and needs is limited. Their voice is not heard and decision-making is often deferred to a family member because of ageist attitudes towards residents in aged care. For Reg, the balance was not achieved. He eventually reached a point where he couldn’t cope with the isolation and abruptly discharged himself from the facility. Unfortunately, he returned home to an empty fridge and complete lack of care services.
Caxton Legal Centre’s social worker arranged for urgent reinstatement of in-home care services for Reg and a referral to the Care Army. Although Reg still experiences a high degree of isolation, Caxton staff have been able to ensure that he will be cared for following his decision to live in his own home once again.
Caxton Legal Centre’s Seniors Legal and Support Service provides legal and social work assistance to people experiencing elder abuse. Contact the service on (07) 3214 6333.