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How to properly investigate elder abuse in aged care homes

Did you know that 20 per cent of nurses in aged care homes have witnessed elder abuse in their facilities as often as twice a week?

A recent survey conducted by the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association uncovered this staggering figure. The data concludes that elder abuse commonly goes unreported and uninvestigated.

Whatever the reasoning, it's clear that something needs to be done. The older generation in Australia deserves to be treated ethically, as laid out by the law. So, when you suspect, or even witness, instances of elder abuse, what must you do to conduct a proper investigation and report the occurrences?

Investigating allegations of elder abuse in aged care facilities

When any suspicion of elder abuse arises, the investigation process should begin as soon as possible. The preliminary process of investigation should follow these steps:

  1. Assessment of accuracy and credibility of report
  2. Verification of what actually happened, was said or done
  3. A background and experience check of staff members involved
  4. A behavioural history check of resident
  5. An investigation of similar reports by residents
  6. Immediate contact of family members who may be available to help with communication

When investigating the above areas, it is important to keep the definitions of elder abuse in mind. The Aged Care Act of 1997 states that reportable offences fall under two categories, defined verbatim below:

  • Unlawful sexual contact with a resident of an aged care home: Unlawful sexual contact refers to non-consensual sexual contact involving residents in aged care facilities. Reporting requirements under the law are designed to protect vulnerable residents, not to restrict their sexual freedom. Where the contact involves residents with an assessed cognitive or mental impairment, the resident may not have the ability to provide informed consent, therefore this should be reported.
  • Unreasonable use of force on a resident of an aged care home: Unreasonable use of force as defined in the Act is intended to capture assaults ranging from deliberate and violent physical attacks on residents to the use of unwarranted physical force on a resident. This may include hitting, punching or kicking a resident regardless of whether this causes visible harm, such as bruising.

For the latter form of elder abuse, the act recognises that "in the aged care environment, there may be circumstances where a staff member could be genuinely trying to assist a resident, and despite their best intentions the resident is injured because the person bruises easily or has fragile skin." As such, injury is not the sole determinant in cases of abuse.

It is critical to conduct proper investigations of elder abuse.It is critical to conduct proper investigations of elder abuse.

Following reporting requirements

If your investigation does conclude that abuse has occurred, there is strict protocol to be followed for reporting the incident(s). According to The Aged Care Act of 1997, there are five key elements to compulsory reporting:

  1. The Act requires that, except in very specific circumstances, approved providers of residential aged care must report every allegation or suspicion of a reportable assault.
  2. Reports must be made to both the police and the department within 24 hours of the allegation being made, or from the time the approved provider starts to suspect, on reasonable grounds, that a reportable assault may have occurred.
  3. If a staff member makes a disclosure that qualifies for protection under the Act, the approved provider must protect the identity of the staff member and ensure that the staff member is not victimised.
  4. If an approved provider fails to meet compulsory reporting requirements the department may take compliance action.
  5. Compliance with compulsory reporting requirements is monitored by the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency (the Quality Agency).

Once the allegations of abuse are formally reported, determinations will be made by the police who will confirm whether the incident is criminal in nature and what further action is required.

Take action against Elder Abuse in Australia

The investigation process is an important step towards identifying and preventing elder abuse in aged care homes across the country and the world. When you consider just how often this kind of mistreatment is occurring, it becomes all the more important to learn how to effectively investigate and report these cases of abuse. Consider these statistics from the World Health Organisation:

  • 1 in 6 older adults worldwide have been abused in the past year.
  • 40 per cent of global aged care staff members have committed psychological abuse.
  • 36 per cent have witnessed physical abuse.
  • 10 per cent of aged care professionals across the globe have committed physical abuse

Yet despite these numbers, only 4 per cent of elder abuse globally is reported and only 40 per cent of countries have formal national plans for addressing the issue. The issue has hit the national radar in

Globally, only 4 per cent of elder abuse is reported.

Australia recently but there is still very little comprehensive research on occurrences of elder abuse and/or success rates when these mistreatments are reported.

Barringtons has decades of experience conducting thorough investigations in Australian aged care homes, providing our clients with strong conclusions and comprehensive reporting recommendations. To learn more about how our team can help you get to the bottom of elder abuse suspicions, reach out to one of our representatives today.

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