WEAAD 2017

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day 2017 Conference


Guest blog post by Martin Lewis

In 2016 I was honoured to be given the opportunity to attend the World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) conference. This was new experience for me as I had never really considered Elder Abuse in any form, not realising it is an all too frequent offence committed against elder people who may not be aware they are on the receiving end of abusiveness that ranges from overt to insidious, or who realise they are victims but are unable to remedy the situation. The "catch-cry" of last year's conference was "Prevent Elder Abuse". In the last year I recognised an instances of friends being badly treated by family members. What can I do? What business is it of mine? ...and the thought occurred to me, "I cannot do nothing." In one discussion with a friend, I led to realise she had the right and the power to stop the abuse. She later reported that, using some of my words, she was able to bring about a change of attitude by the abuser and the issue was settled in her favour. "One small step for Martin, one giant leap for my friend."

I was very pleased to be invited to attend the 2017 Conference. I wanted to hear more. Once again, the speakers were outstanding (with one exception - but you can't get it perfectly correct all the time.)

The key-note speaker was Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher AM, President of the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC). She won me over immediately she said, "Elder abuse is everybody's business."

The ALRC has just released its report on its investigation into Elder abuse. The "three R's" of the report are:

Reduce risk
Ensure Response
Provide avenues for Redress

Amid the many recommendations of the report, a few were:

Aged Care:

Establish a serious incident response
Examine the suitability of staff and staffing levels
Regulate restrictive practices 

Powers of Attorney:

Safeguards against misuse
Choice as to scope
Support preferences and rights
Enhance witnessing

Adult Safeguarding:       Introduce safeguarding officers of the public advocate
For those who: need care and support are being abused or neglected cannot protect themselves
Achieve national consistency

The ALRC report has the potential to bring major changes that will benefit and protect those people who are subjected to abuse. I hope the right people listen. She urged us all to review the report on line, and petition our parliamentary representatives.

The problem is that unless government agencies get behind the prevention of Elder Abuse nothing will happen. Professor Wendy Lacey, Dean of Law at the University of SA referred to a previous study titled "Closing the Gaps", that was released about the time of change of the Minister of Health. Unfortunately the report went nowhere. More recent efforts to collect data on EA do not seem to have fair much better. There needs to be better systems for the collection, compiling and interpretation of data. We don't need to collect data to recognise there is a problem, but the extent and severity of the problem needs to be documented. In a recent study by the Dept. Health, only 6 agencies participated in collating "lived experiences".

The ALRC report referred to by Professor Croucher is evidence that there is momentum across the country for such law reform, but resources and education need to be in place before the effects of law reform will be able to be seen.

Professor Lacey's recommendations included the involvement of the Office for The Ageing (OFTA), Aged Rights Advocacy Service (ARAS), the Office of the Public Advocate (OPA), Domiciliary Care, the Legal Services Commission, and SA Police.

Carolanne Barkla, CEO of ARAS referred to recent media headline events which have brought EA to attention. The first, in early 2016, was the occurrence of physical abuse of a resident of a nursing home facility in SA that was revealed by family members installing hidden surveillance cameras in the resident's bedroom. This abuse resulted in a criminal conviction, and will be covered in more detail later in this report. It also resulted in ARAS issuing a Draft Position Statement on the use of cameras in aged care facilities.

The second "headline event" was the closure of the Oakden Older Persons Mental Health Facility ("Oakden") due to a report that revealed sustained multiple cases of mistreatment of residents. The reports coming out of "Oakden" have resulted in an investigation being launched by the South Australian Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). Members of the public are asked to contact the Office of Public Integrity if they have any information relating to treatment of residents at Oakden.

Ms Barkla emphasised that while these two instances pertained to South Australia, the movement for prevention of EA requires a national approach commencing with a scoping study and necessitating the collaboration of all relevant agencies in all states.

Ms Rosa Colanero, CEO of the Multicultural Aged Care Inc, then raised the issue of the cultural diversity. For instance, raised voices between two parties may give rise to the perception of elder abuse when it is the cultural norm in some circumstances. The loud speech may be a completely cooperative discussion. The cultural diversity of our community dictates that one solution may not fit all circumstances.

This cultural diversity was echoed by Mr Graham Aitken, the CEO of Aboriginal Community Care SA (ACC). The ACC's approach is to work with elder clients in a respectful way and assist them to take advantage of the assistance that is available. The ACC has assisted it clients in the following ways:

  • In Adelaide 300 people have received assistance from the Commonwealth Home Support Program (CHSP) and 
  • 47 people are receiving assistance with Home Care Packages
  • In the APY lands in the north of the state, 100 people receive CHSP assistance, and 
  • In 3 communities disability meal services are conducted.
  • Across the state there are 6 33-bed residential aged care facilities for Aboriginal elders


The ACC's budget exceeds $7 million per year, with 100 employees serving approx. 40,000 aboriginal people in SA. The values that ACC endeavours to engender include self-determination, respect, honesty and transparency, and connection to their community.

For this writer, the speaker with the most impact for the day was Ms Noleen Hausler, who brought a community perspective to the topic of Elder Abuse. The title of her speech was "Advocating for the Vulnerable with a Voice".
Readers may recall reports of aged care abuse at a Nursing Home facility at Mitcham, SA in 2016. Ms Hausler's act of installing video surveillance in her father's room at the facility raised national debate, and resulted in the criminal conviction of the perpetrator of the abuse, but with seemingly no penalty against the management of the facility.

Ms Hausler had been very happy with the treatment of her father for several years as his physical and mental condition deteriorated. After the facility was sold to an interstate company, and its management approach seemed to become less effective, Ms Hausler began to become concerned about the treatment her father was receiving. The appearance of bruises on his body, and the deterioration of his general demeanour began to arouse her suspicions of mistreatment. He was unable to communicate, but he seemed to become more withdrawn and fearful.

Ms Hausler raised her concerns with management, but was not satisfied with their response. Her father's condition seemed to continue to deteriorate. Her opinion was formed not only from her role as a loving daughter, but also with the experience gained from a professional perspective as a qualified nurse with 35 years experience, many of those years as an intensive care nurse.

She installed a small camera in her father's room. When she took the evidence to management, they accused her of breaking the law, and seemed to take little action. That re3action left her with no choice other than to take it to the police.

As a result, criminal charges were brought against the Carer, Corey Lucas, who pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated assault. He was sentenced to 10 months gaol, but that was reduced by three months in recognition of his guilty plea, and a further 6 months after submissions. He served only 4 weeks in gaol. It seems that no action was taken by any agency against the owners and managers of the nursing home. Part of the problem may lie in inconsistent legislation between the States, preventing action being taken against the parent company which is resident in another state.

Ms Hausler then showed the audience the video. This writer was a member of St John Ambulance Brigade for 22 years, as an ambulance crew member. In all that time I have never experienced the emotion I felt on viewing this video. I was absolutely appalled (to put it mildly) that a vulnerable person could be treated in such a cruel manner with so little consequence.

I apologise to the subsequent speakers, but I was so upset by this video that I was unable to concentrate on their presentations.

The final speaker was Nat Cook, MP, Chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee examining legislation on elder abuse to be introduced to the current Parliament.

All I can say to the readers of this report is, please, please don't be silent on the matter of Elder Abuse. Lobby your Parliamentarians to ensure legislative action is taken. Contact Nat Cook for details and contact the Minister of Health, and support ARAS in its endeavours. In addition, support Ms Noleen Hausler in her campaign to allow families to install monitoring equipment in bedrooms of nursing homes as a safeguard for their loved ones. (Google Noleen Hausler for more detailed information.)

No human being (or animal, even) should be abused - no matter in what manner the abuse occurs.

I hope the 2018 WEAAD Conference will bring news of greater protection against Elder Abuse.