'We're going to be shocked': Aged care royal commission begins in Adelaide


The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety begins in Adelaide on Friday.

When the Royal Commission holds its first public hearing on Friday, Stewart Johnston will be watching closely. 

Mr Johnston says his mother Helen suffered abuse at the hands of a carer while residing at the now defunct Oakden nursing home in Adelaide in 2008.

“He walked up to her and he grabbed her by the face and he slapped her across the face and swore at her, and told her that she was not important,” he said.

“I was absolutely gutted ... She didn’t want to tell me because she was so desperate to receive treatment to end the pain that she was in.”

Oakden victims family say they are extremely disappointed there was no room in court to be present for opening.
Oakden victims family say they are extremely disappointed there was no room in court to be present for opening.

Mr Johnston reported the incident to the facility, and the police, but says he was "devastated" to find out, nine years later, it wasn't an isolated incident.

Several residents at the state-run mental health facility were found to have been mistreated and the scandal was one of several that led to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety being called.

"It was devastating that so many more victims after my mum occurred. If they had listened to me, we could have perhaps stopped all of this."

Stewart Johnston
Stewart Johnston (L) pictured with his mother, Helen.
SBS News

The commission, which begins in Adelaide this week, will probe thousands of allegations of substandard care, mistreatment and abuse by service providers.

The inquiry will consider how to better support the elderly, people with disabilities and dementia patients who are also living in aged care homes.   

It was launched in part as a response to the appalling treatment of residents at Oakden. 

Sean Rooney, the Chief Executive of aged care services peak body Leading Age Services Australia (LASA), said in a statement the organisation was fully supportive of the Royal Commission.

“While the vast majority of Australia’s age services and their dedicated staff deliver outstanding care, it is the responsibility of our industry, the Government and the wider community to ensure there are no exceptions,” he said.

“We must grasp the ‘once in a generation’ opportunity that the aged care Royal Commission provides to make the aged care system better for all older Australians.”

“Notwithstanding this, whilst the Royal Commission is underway, we must not lose sight of making the aged care system better right now, by addressing the key issues of access to services, funding of services, quality of services and supporting the workforce that delivers these services.”

'We're going to be shocked'

Mr Johnston said Australians should brace themselves for what may be to come.

“We’ve seen some atrocious abuses in the media over the last two years. What is about to come out in this royal commission will make that pale into insignificance,” he said. 

“We’re going to be shocked as a nation, and we’re going to be judged on what we do next.”

He hopes the inquiry will spark vast changes to Australia’s aged care system, including better reporting mechanisms.

“We have got to change the culture of how we treat the elderly in this country,” he said.

He’d also like greater surveillance options for residents, including giving patients access to cameras in their rooms.

“I think we have to understand that we have to embrace technology,” he said.

Stewart Johnston
Stewart Johnston's mother Helen passed away in 2014.
SBS News

Mr Johnston’s mother died in 2014.

“I would still love my mum to be here, she was wonderful. But she didn’t need to see this,” he said.  

She would have been heartbroken, because she cared more about others than herself.”

“We’ll make these changes for the next generation of elders who won’t have to go through it.”

The commission will start with a preliminary hearing on Friday morning, presided over by former federal court judge Richard Tracey and former Medicare boss Lynelle Briggs.

An opening statement will be heard, but no witnesses will be called. Public hearings will begin next month.

Public submissions will be accepted until at least mid-2019, and can be made on the commission's website or by calling 1800 960 711.

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