Elderly Woman Sad 2

Earle Haven nightmare closure a sign of lack of framework?

50 per cent of residents were being physically restrained, and up to 71 per cent were being ‘chemically restrained’ with the use of psychotropic drugs at the Gold Coast’s now infamous, Earle Haven Aged Care Centre. This was according to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission (ACQSC) report lodged on June 25. The centre was abruptly closed down by operators less than two weeks later causing chaotic scenes.

Major newspapers around the country reported on the conditions and consequential closure of Earle Haven last week, after findings at the Royal Commission hearings in Brisbane. It’s not the first time we’ve heard damning reports of our Aged Care sector since the opening of the Royal Commission hearings commenced earlier this year. But the conditions and abrupt closure of Earle Haven it is definitely one of the most horrific reports to date.

Earle Haven closed just two weeks after the damning report from the ASQSC. What was most disturbing, however, was the closure was abrupt––even before the report had been completed­­––and as a result caused even more distress for the nearly 70 residents who were now essentially homeless. 

The Royal Commission heard last week in Brisbane that following the report, the operators of Earle Haven removed computer servers and vital patient records, and organised furniture removalists, before calling triple zero to come and take care of the 68 frail residents who were being kicked out of their ‘home’. Their beds were removed while they ate their lunch in the dining hall, oblivious to what was about to happen to their wellbeing. You can only imagine the scene emergency services were greeted with.

Ambulance supervisor, Cary Strong who gave a statement at the Commission hearings, spoke of the chaos he faced upon arrival at the scene. Residents and their families screaming and crying, disorientated and distressed, while furniture removalists dismantled their home around them. Staff arguing, to the point of threatening physical violence over patient care plans. He even saw one resident trying to push his own wheelchair through the foyer, urinary bag dragging along behind him.

Queensland state Labor MP and Health Committee chairman Aaron Harper called it a ‘national shame’. And he is spot on. But is the shame in what the reports stated or how the closure was handled? Or perhaps the shame in allowing our sector to get to this point in the first place. To a point where providers are able to run for this long in this way while continuing to profit. It’s incredibly worrying it has come this far.

According to the Brisbane Times, owner of Earle Haven, Arthur Miller, was in ongoing financial disputes with sub-contractor HelpStreet, who were operating the centre. HelpStreet demanding $3m of Miller just days prior to the closure. But the problems went deeper than that, with several reports claiming Earle Haven had red flags in the years prior, but sanctions dropped in 2017 only to be brought to assessment again earlier this year.

In this particular case, it does bring to light the problems in the framework of the Aged Care Sector. Not only that a provider can run with the sorts of figures in the June ASQSC report, but also that a home can be closed so abruptly without any thought to the residents and their immediate welfare.

In his opening statement addressing the Earle Haven closure, Peter Gray QC, counsel assisting the commission, spoke of the regulatory framework. He stated, the framework should “not permit vulnerable people to be put on the street and geared to address the sudden cessation of services”.

So why did it? And how did it get so lapse? And when will we start responding to the ‘red flags’ sooner to avoid such chaotic closures. Not to mention the tug of war between contractors and owners, purely financial, that pay little regard to the prime focus of the entire sector, the elderly and their welfare.

We can only hope the Royal Commission will find answers to all these questions and bring our industry back to a place we can all be proud of.

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