The evil - and costs - hiding in our aged care

Martha died last year. It doesn’t matter that she didn’t know Scott Morrison would end up prime minister. Even if she did, dementia would have stolen her ability to recognise him on the television.

It doesn’t matter that the new prime minister, who has instigated a royal commission into aged care, didn’t know Martha either. But he needs to know what bills she received in her gated aged-care villa.

Martha owned the small unit she called home until almost the end. The private gates didn’t stop her wandering off on many occasions. It was never the home or its staff who realised she was missing though; that was always some community-minded person who saw a woman looking lost and out of place.

Never an apology. Just a $42 fee to take her back to her room. Indeed, the fees paid by Martha and her family steal the "care" out of aged care. No doubt exists, in reading Martha’s monthly bills, that big chunks of this industry are motivated by profit.

Martha paid a monthly fee of almost $2000 despite buying the villa for $220,000. That monthly fee included a "general services fee" of $18.85 a day, plus up to 45 or 60 minutes of care each day with two meals. Everything else Martha needed came at a cost.

A single load of washing cost $13.50. One month, Martha needed three loads done. That meant her washing, for one month, cost $40.50. A change of linen cost an extra $10.

If Martha called an attendant during daylight hours - and it was a non-emergency - it cost $12. If the sun had gone down, $25. If she actually required any kind of "personal service", it was another $41 - assistance after a fall, another $41!

To apply a dressing, add another $50.50 an hour. Making a pathology booking cost $12.75 each time, replacing a lightbulb cost $9.32.

We are so pleased to find a bed in an aged care home for our ailing parents that we will pay whatever it takes. We just hope they are looked after.

The secret footage played on Four Corners last week should make us all sick. These are our parents, our aunts and uncles and grandparents. A royal commission is the absolute minimum and good on Scott Morrison for committing to it.

Note: Martha’s name was changed in this column for privacy reasons.

  • Madonna King (pictured) is a leading journalist and commentator.