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Elder abuse takes centre stage at annual conference

The 14th World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) Conference, hosted by South Australian (SA) Aged Rights Advocacy Service (ARAS), was held at the Stamford Grand Adelaide Hotel in SA on Monday, with a huge attendance from people working within the aged care industry.

14th World Elder Abuse Awareness Day Conference speakers: Carolanne Barkla, Aged Rights Advocacy Service CE and Dr Duncan McKellar, Northern Adelaide Local Health Network. [Source: Talking Aged Care]
14th World Elder Abuse Awareness Day Conference speakers: Carolanne Barkla, Aged Rights Advocacy Service CE and Dr Duncan McKellar, Northern Adelaide Local Health Network. [Source: Talking Aged Care]

The theme of the conference was about rebuilding trust in the aged care industry after years of unsatisfactory aged care services, and new programs being implemented now and in the future to reduce elder abuse.

Opening the event, SA Minister for Health and Wellbeing, Mr Stephen Wade expressed his gratitude to the passionate people within the industry present at the event, saying, “Elder abuse is everyone’s business.”

The conference’s Master of Ceremony was National Seniors Australia Chief Advocate, Ian Henschke, who brought passion and humour to the otherwise very serious event.

Carolanne Barkla, ARAS Chief Executive, had a constant presence throughout the event, including the conference welcome, her own presentation about the current state of the aged care industry, and appearing on the panel discussion.

Ms Barkla put forward a united front, outlining the positive work that has been created to prevent elder abuse, but showing the current shortfalls in the system and what implementations she would like to see to create better aged care practise.

“All Australians have rights that do not diminish with age… A lot has changed over the last year, but more has to be done. We want real engagement with older people,” says Ms Barkla.

Two Commissioners spoke at the event, including Dr Kay Patterson AO, Age Discrimination Commissioner, and Dr Roger Thomas, Commissioner for the Office of the Commissioner for Aboriginal Engagement.

In her keynote speech, Dr Patterson outlined the ongoing ageism within Australia, introducing a study that found around 30 percent of employers wouldn’t higher someone over the age of 50.

The biggest form of abuse towards older people is financial abuse, Dr Patterson highlighted many cases of family members stealing properties and money from their parents or relatives for personal gain.

She outlined that every elder abuse study will always be underrepresented, but at least there is strong headway forward to prevent and minimise elder abuse around Australia.

Dr Patterson was followed by keynote speaker, Dr Duncan McKellar, Head of the Unit for Older Persons’ Mental Health Services, Northern Adelaide Local Health Network.

Dr McKellar played an important part in shutting down Oakden Nursing Home in Adelaide, the incident that triggered the Royal Commission, and explained the positive steps that need to be taken to create a transparent and trusted aged care industry.

He wants aged care facilities to acknowledge they make mistakes and then to fix it, rather than to hide the fact.

Dr McKellar believes there should be no secrets within aged care facilities and there should be complete transparency within every facet of the sector.

The myth around Oakden was that the poor care came down to bad staff rather than the system within which they were working.

Dr McKellar says that most of the staff were good providers of care, but they were lost within a system that didn’t provide them with support or appropriate care practices.

He says the changes needed for the future comes down to not only rebuilding trust with families and recipients of aged care services, but also with staff.

“Culture is the most fundamental reform for aged care,” says Dr McKellar.

He recommends implementing personal improvement goals among staff to get positive results in the workforce.

“Development is not for children, it’s for everyone. We saw tangible, quantitative change among our staff [at Northgate House]. We need to close the loop and continue cultural changes...We need a paradigm shift,” says Dr McKellar.

He finished his speech, saying integrity is vital to establishing trust within the aged care sector.

Jeanette Walters, Director of Intergovernment Relations and Ageing, Office for Ageing Well, SA Health, presented the new ‘Adult Safeguarding Unit’ to come into effect by October of this year and how that will benefit elderly people in South Australia.

Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Richard Lambert and DCI Ian Humby, South Australia Police (SAPOL) Public Protection Branch, both talked of the benefit of the Adult Safeguarding Unit which provides the missing link of mediation before police intervention, and spoke about the increased efficiencies and training undertaken by officers in SAPOL to catch perpetrators.

The panel discussion of the day produced heated discussion and interaction from audience members, who asked questions about the safety of elderly people, how to intervene in difficult situations, and legal issues faced by families and elderly people.

Sitting on the panel was Ms Barkla for ARAS; Ms Walters for SA Health; Gabrielle Canny, Director of Legal Services Commission; Elly Nitschke, Officer of the Public Advocate, Manager of Dispute Resolution Service; and DCI Humby for SAPOL.

Beverley Lange, Elder Abuse Action Australia (EAAA) Chief Executive, used her speech to explain the function of the organisation and their role in giving a voice to those who are unable to, as well as expressed the need for more members to get on board.

The Dementia Centre (TDC) Head of Operations, Andrew Haszard, was the last speaker of the day, explaining the importance of TDC and the work they are doing within aged care facilities to improve the lives of older Australians.

While it was a full day of information around elder abuse, the audience was constantly engaged with each speaker and topic, and happily interacted during question time.

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