A dedicated champion of the elderly is only the start in addressing "systemic" failings in aged-care, says the daughter of a rest home resident found with maggots in a wound.

Parliament's Social Services and Community Committee has recommended to the Government it investigate establishing a Commissioner for the Elderly.

It comes three years after Labour pledged before the 2017 general election to introduce an Aged-Care Commissioner, following a cross-party inquiry that found falling elderly care standards.

The position was to be provided for in Labour's first budget, but never eventuated.

Advertisement

Corina O'Brien, whose 86-year-old father Evan Bartle suffered appalling neglect during his last weeks of life at a rest home in Pukekohe, says it's time New Zealanders stop accepting such treatment of its older population.

She supports the creation of a standalone role charged with ensuring the care and wellbeing of the elderly is adequately monitored, protected and investigated.

"It's absolutely disgusting in our country that we are saying that [care] is ok, and it's not ok," O'Brien said.

"If it was an animal who was covered in maggots, who had no food, no water and was skin and bone and was in agony, animal management would be there, they would remove the animal, they would prosecute those people who neglected and hurt that animal, right?

"So what about our humans? We're saying they are actually less valuable than a sheep in a paddock."

Evan Bartle before his death, having wounds dressed at the Palms Lifecare rest home. His care was found to be unacceptable by the Health and Disability Commissioner. Photo / Suplied
Evan Bartle before his death, having wounds dressed at the Palms Lifecare rest home. His care was found to be unacceptable by the Health and Disability Commissioner. Photo / Suplied

.

The retired mechanical engineer went from Middlemore Hospital to Heritage Lifecare's Palms Lifecare rest home in December 2017 for palliative care for heart failure.

In a report by the Health and Disability Commissioner into Bartle's care released in February this year, deputy commissioner Rose Wall detailed a litany of failings that included 15 maggots hatching in a wound under Bartle's toenail.

Advertisement

Wall said the end-of-life care was "unacceptable" and Bartle suffered unnecessarily.

"[He] should not have had to rely on his family to advocate on his behalf for such a fundamental component of his end-of-life care," Wall said.

Bartle's dressings for leg ulcers were changed infrequently, the changes caused pain and his pain management was not appropriate, he was not showered regularly, his room was dirty, he suffered three falls and by the time he died 12 weeks later on March 9, 2018, he had lost 15kg.

O'Brien said one of the major issues she encountered was untrained staff.

"Those people who are providing that level of care to someone who is dying or has complex healthcare needs or wound-care requirements don't need any qualifications."

One of Bartle's carers had quit a job at McDonald's shortly before she joined the rest home, O'Brien claims.

Advertisement

In New Zealand there are no specific requirements to be a healthcare assistant - a person who supports a nurse and provides the care in a private home, rest home, hospital, or general practice - though some employers prefer a level of qualification under the New Zealand Certificate in Health and Wellbeing.

After O'Brien went public with her father's story to Radio Live host Mark Sainsbury, the media personality lodged a petition to Parliament for the creation of a Commissioner for the Elderly.

In a 15-page report generated by the petition and subsequent hearings, released on July 31, the Social Services and Community Committee said there had been two inquiries into the standard and availability of aged care, undertaken by the Labour and Green parties and Grey Power in 2010 and 2017.

The 2017 report also recommended establishing a Commissioner for the Elderly.

Radio talk show host Mark Sainsbury's petition prompted a committee to recommend the Government investigate establishing a Commissioner for the Elderly. Photo / Supplied
Radio talk show host Mark Sainsbury's petition prompted a committee to recommend the Government investigate establishing a Commissioner for the Elderly. Photo / Supplied

The committee said a Commissioner for the Elderly would coordinate oversight of the sector to ensure adequate monitoring, protection and investigation, update standards of care, provide leadership and influence, a higher profile and provide consumers with a single, clear and expedient path of redress.

In its evidence to the committee the Health and Disability Commissioner, who currently deals with complaints on elderly abuse, said inadequate supervision of care and delegation to healthcare assistants by registered nurses was a consistent feature of complaints.

Advertisement

Waitematā DHB chair Judy McGregor called for change in the aged-care sector in an opinion piece published in the Herald after the transfer of St Margaret's rest home patients with Covid-19 and subsequent deaths.

Professor McGregor, the head of the school of social sciences and public policy at AUT, didn't mention individual facilities but said Covid-19 had "critically exposed the frailties of our regulatory and oversight systems surrounding aged care".

"DHBs found in Covid-19 that they had limited jurisdiction over privately owned facilities... we will continue to fail the vulnerable without adequate oversight."

It comes as rest homes have again locked their doors due to Covid-19 as Auckland goes into level 3 restrictions on Wednesday and the rest of the country into level 2 following the discovery of community transmission in a South Auckland family.