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ROYAL COMMISSION: “My heart is crying”

The first day of the Darwin hearings for the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety heard from an Aboriginal Elder who was placed out of community in a nursing home far away from her family and culture.

Giving evidence at the Royal Commission is CEO Sarah Brown from Purple House, and Kim McRae, Team Manager at Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Women’s Council. [Source: Royal Commission]
Giving evidence at the Royal Commission is CEO Sarah Brown from Purple House, and Kim McRae, Team Manager at Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Women’s Council. [Source: Royal Commission]

The Commission also listened to statements about the quality of life health and aged care work achieved by Aboriginal health service providers in the Northern Territory.

Mildred Numamurdirdi gave direct evidence via a pre-recorded video, but was present at the hearing, along with her General Practitioner from Danila Dilba Health Service, Dr Meredith Hansen Knarhoi. 

Ms Numamurdirdi explained her heartbreak after being transferred from hospital to stay at Terrace Garden Aged Care in Darwin and her inability to be in a facility closer to her country. 

Because of this, her family was unable to visit her due to the distance and could only contact Ms Numamurdirdi on the phone.

“[They] put me on the ambulance and they drive me and I don't know this place… I was crying for four weeks, sad for my family,” says Ms Numamurdirdi.

“It’s too far for us, my family, travelling, my daughter and two grandson… It's too far from Numbulwar just to visit me... We don't have aged care closer in our community. I'm asking to build aged care in out community.

“They all love me and they all miss me... I make them sad and I myself sad…. My heart is crying because I am far away from my family… If I pass away here, I've got my spirit, my culture, my ceremony way back home and my family. They don't want that way, because we've got everything there in the home.”

Dr Knarhoi says the nursing home are dependent on mobile phones to keep in contact with family, and it took a number of months to figure out a phone for Ms Numamurdirdi to use as there are usually no phones in residential aged care 

She also says it depends on seasons and times within community and if mobile phones are turned on or not. 

The nearest residential care for Ms Numamurdirdi is in Katherine in Western Australia, which is also impossible for family to access, and due to Ms Numamurdirdi having complex needs, she must be in Darwin to access the care that can’t be provided on country.

Taking to the Royal Commission stand next was Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Sarah Brown, Western Desert Nganampa Walytja Palyantjaku Tjutaku Aboriginal Corporation, Purple House, and Kim McRae, Team Manager at Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (NPY) Women’s Council (Aboriginal Corporation).

They both agreed that Ms Numamurdirdi’s situation is not unique with many Aboriginal Elders completely unable to access appropriate services for their needs, and are either forced off country for care or instead decide not to receive care at all to remain in community.

Ms McRae says, “The challenges are related to there not being a lot of services available in remote areas and so, as the care needs of our clients increase, the opportunity to keep supporting them out on community lessens. 

“There are pressures to bring people into aged care services in urban centres because there are a lack of aged care services out in communities.

“Sometimes they will stay living out on community despite their increasing care needs, because they will make that choice. They will still choose to live on country and they will be very, very aware of the consequences of the choice... We do a lot of advocacy for people around their desire to continue living on country. 

“At times, that puts us a little bit at odds with other service providers who may feel that it would be more appropriate for someone to live in town and get additional supports... We support what the client and the family wants... We look at all the ways we can continue to support a person to live on country… I think return to country is really critical to person's emotional and social wellbeing,” Ms McRae explains.

Ms Brown was in agreement with Ms McRae about the lack of services in remote communities, saying that Purple House was created through a need for dialysis services in remote areas.

Coupled with the level of care issues in remote areas is the widespread poverty in Indigenous communities, where wealth is shared throughout families resulting in many elderly people making sure the children receive care and food first.

“It’s very much that issue of communities living in poverty, often people not having access to even Centrelink because they've been breached. To look after old people, you've got to try and build the health of the whole community because old people are an important part of that,” says Ms Brown.

“I think that Aboriginal communities have a lot to teach us in terms of valuing older people and their cultural knowledge. That isn’t the experience of non-Indigenous communities. At the same time, people are going to share their food and resources. 

"What has been allocated as aged care resources or NDIS resources is going to become family resources… It’s a bit like, “It takes a village to raise a child.” I think that old people in remote communities are really important and services are scarce in little communities.”

Both Ms Brown and Ms McRae agreed that there needed to be better funding for health services in remote communities, including aged care services and facilities, and financial aid for people on country that are struggling to get by.

Ms McRae added that country and community is incredibly important to Aboriginal Elders and providers need to do everything possible to keep that intact so that Indigenous people accessing aged care services can retain a high quality of life.

Hearings will continue Tuesday, July 8, at 10 am local time in Darwin, NT.

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