Australia

Dying aged resident 'sounded like lawnmower engine', royal commission hears

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A 70-year-old woman sounded like a "lawnmower engine" as she was fighting to breathe in a Sydney residential aged care home, but there wasn't a nurse in sight.

Vera's breathing sounded like a "lawnmower engine" in the hours before she died at an aged care home in Sydney, there wasn't a nurse in sight and her daughters were in a state of panic.

The aged care royal commission on Monday examined the quality and safety of care given to Vera, who lived in the Bupa Willoughby facility for one month before she died.

Aged Care
The Aged Care Royal Commission began in Adelaide in January. Picture are commissioners Richard Tracey and Lynelle Briggs.
AAP

Her daughter - given the pseudonym DI - told the Sydney hearing that she found her mother alone in her room and fighting to breathe in August 2017.

"We walked in the corridor and it sounded like there was an engine or a truck or a lawnmower engine running," she said on Monday.

"No one was with mum, she was in her bed and I can only describe it as someone who had run a marathon and couldn't catch their breath."

The daughter told the inquiry she was "frantically" running about the facility looking for staff. It took up to half an hour for anyone to come to her mother's room.

Vera's other daughter - given the pseudonym DJ - described the night of her mum's death as an "absolute farce and disgrace".

DJ, who was Vera's enduring power of attorney, told the hearing Bupa never advised her they had started a palliative care journey for her mum.

"For an organisation that exists to care for people, it seemed like they had no compassion for us at all," DJ said on Monday.

Bupa Aged Care executive clinical director Maureen Berry told the commission on Wednesday the "right care" was given to Vera "most of the time".

The commission heard that staff at the aged care home stopped using a pain scale to help determine how much pain Vera was in on July 22.

"Someone stopped doing it," Ms Berry said, conceding that was a "serious failure".

The commission later heard from Alzheimer's Disease International chair Glenn Rees, who said Australia's residential aged care sector has been "defensive" in its response to criticism or change.

He said Australia's health system needs to be more dementia-friendly and there needs to be better interaction between policy makers and aged care workers.

Mr Rees suggested there should be a federal minister for aged care.

"We need to head those areas up with high flyers like (in) treasury or foreign affairs because you've got services that impact on the lives of the most vulnerable people in our community," he said.

The government should also set its expectations for the use of psychotropic drugs in aged care homes, Mr Rees added.

"Until the government says our expectation is clearly this and it's not a word game, the industry has every right in some ways, very sadly, to say we're doing our best," he said.

It follows a commission hearing last week which examined the use of medication at some facilities, including Anglicare's Brian King Garden in Castle Hill where 112 of 197 residents were on psychotropic drugs in July 2018.

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