The Royal Commission into the Quality of Care in Residential Aged Care facilities (Commission) has just kicked off, however it has already bought to the surface confronting cases of elder abuse and substandard care in aged care homes. 

In giving evidence at the start of the Commission, Barbara Spriggs became emotional as she shared the story of her husband Bobs’ abuse at the care home which included inappropriate use of restraints, poor nutrition and the overuse of psychotropic drugs. Bob died after being prescribed a lethal dose of medication at the hands of his carers while staying at a South Australia government run nursing home. 

Over time Barbara repeatedly raised concerns about her husbands unexplained injuries rapidly declining condition. The pattern of abuse was not detected by those responsible for managing the homes and the Government agencies responsible for overseeing the nursing homes. 

I should not have had to battle long and hard for months to be heard

Whilst most providers have workplace policies that encourage reporting of misconduct in the workplace, whistleblowers are often reluctant to come forward due to a fear of reprisal or lack of trust in the reporting process. The development of a robust whistleblowing program and policy can assist aged care providers to offer a constructive and safe way for stakeholders to speak up against wrongdoing. Many providers are extending their programs to allow reports from residents, and those under their care, with the aim to provide a suitable escalation point if standard pathways are not appropriate.

The new whistleblowing regime under the recently passed Treasury Laws Amendment (Enhancing Whistleblowers Protections) Bill 2017 provides greater protection against harassment and victimisation as a result of making a disclosure. The bill not only requires organisations to review their current whistleblowing policy or prepare one if they don’t have one in place, but to ensure adequate training and resources have been provided to managers before the law comes into force on 1 July 2019. Whilst directly regulating only listed and large private companies, our recommendation is that any organization regardless of size and sector implement these principles as a matter of good corporate practice. 

Whistleblowing programs are not restricted to abuse, a surveyconducted by the Association of Fraud Examiners (ACFE) in 2018 revealed that the 40% of fraud detection method came from employee tip offs with the nearest detection method being internal audit at 15%. Furthermore, organization’s that offered a whistleblowing service detected fraud earlier and experienced a lower financial impact than those that did not offer the service. 

Tackling the issue of elder abuse and neglect in aged care is complex and presents in itself a myriad of challenges. The misconduct is often difficult to detect due to the sensitivity of the matters. Changing the culture around whistleblowing within the organisation can be a momentous task and requires a practical approach. Having an appreciation of the current corporate culture or your stakeholder’s perceptions of the reporting frameworks within the organisation is invaluable in measuring the preparedness to speak up. The feedback process can begin by engaging with your stakeholders via surveys or round-table meetings to receive a better understanding of front-line issues/experiences etc.

Establishing or auditing your whistleblowing program should be conducted within the broader Governance context and can revolve around Your Call’s Checklist available here. Detailed information around recent changes to AU legislation can also be downloaded here.