A major shake-up of the monitoring of dementia units has been welcomed by Grey Power as helping protect those who can't speak for themselves.
The Office of the Ombudsman will have the power to randomly inspect about 180 privately-run dementia facilities, in changes gazetted by Justice Minister Andrew Little today.
The Herald has recently reported cases where elderly residents were strapped to chairs all day with minimal movement of repositioning.
Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier said his team would look out for those sorts of incidents. They will also begin monitoring detainees in court cells - opening up about 60 detention facilities to inspections.
"It is a big moment," Boshier told reporters at Parliament. "This is a big opening of the door. My sense is everyone will welcome it.
"This will open the door and shine a light...this is a major expansion of our work and the breadth of our mandate."
Boshier noted the number of New Zealanders with dementia is projected to nearly triple to about 170,000 by 2050.
"As the population ages and the number of aged care facilities increases it is so important for them to be independently inspected. We need to make sure the care of some of our most vulnerable people is both reasonable and humane."
Grey Power president Mac Welch welcomed the change, something his organisation had been pressing for.
"We are very pleased with that announcement. We unfortunately have had – and there was a case reported in your paper recently – some pretty upsetting things happen. And we think there needs to be closer scrutiny of any aged care facility. Not just the dementia units. Any aged care facility.
"Dementia patients can't sort the situation themselves, because of their circumstances. And a lot of them haven't got regular family visitors that will take up their case on their behalf.
"We have a responsibility as a society to make sure those sorts of things are right up to standard and people are treated decently."
"Places of detention", including psychiatric units and jails are subject to independent monitoring under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (Opcat) framework, and the Office of the Ombudsman is among those tasked with checking facilities.
The Ombudsman and Human Rights Commission, and others, have recommended the framework be widened to include locked private aged-care facilities and disability residences.
Boshier said it will take about 12 months for random inspections to start. After planning his office will seek funding from Parliament. His team currently monitored state-run dementia facilities, and the changes confirmed today would add another 185 sites to that workload.
"We look to see whether some people have been restrained in tie-down chairs, and whether there are adequate records."
A spokeswoman for Justice Minister Andrew Little said changes published in the Government Gazette included clarifying that monitoring of people detained in privately-run aged care facilities is the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman.
"The schedule and details of monitoring are for the Ombudsman to decide. This is because the monitoring agencies are independent from Government and we cannot get involved in their monitoring practices," the spokeswoman said.
"The Minister of Justice decided not to progress changes in relation to places of detention for children and young persons at this stage and to wait until completion of MSD's review of the Children's Commissioner's functions later this year."
The Human Rights Commission in 2016 published a report recommending the OPCAT framework be widened to include locked aged-care facilities and disability residences, citing incidents when older people were unable to move from chairs for many hours.
"Staffing levels don't allow for staff to take residents outdoors on request, and people with moderate or severe dementia will struggle to remember scheduled walking times. Their lived experience will be of being locked within a building with no exit," the report stated.