TriCare has been blasted by the QNMU.
TriCare has been blasted by the QNMU.

Aged care facility slammed after understaffing allegations

THE Queensland Nurses and Midwives Union has blasted aged care provider TriCare after a resident made allegations of understaffing and poor care at its Toowoomba facility.

The resident, who The Chronicle has not named, fired off a tweet last week over numerous concerns at the facility - "cries of pain unanswered, buzzers chiming … unanswered, ambo's turning up for injured only to go away empty because … family wishes. Food that is barely edible. Sheets not changed. Showers a luxury. This is my punishment".

Groom MP Dr John McVeigh, upon hearing of the tweet, contacted TriCare Toowoomba over the allegations.

QNMU regional organiser Jennifer Ballantyne said staff had advised her that straight after that, "management went and spoke to her about John McVeigh contacting them. (Staff) were told to pack (her belongings) up, she's going, which is a definite reprisal for her speaking up".

Ms Ballantyne said staff had told her an ambulance was called, and the resident was sent "straight to Toowoomba Hospital".

TriCare director Peter O'Shea said the resident was a "temporary resident", having transferred to the facility from Toowoomba Hospital on July 10.

He said Dr McVeigh contacted the facility on July 29 "advising TriCare of comments made by (the resident) on Twitter, and ensuring TriCare passed on his number for (her) to contact him if she so wants".

"The facility manager and clinical manager of TriCare Toowoomba thereafter had a conversation with (the resident) around her concerns, which they were previously unaware of."

Mr O'Shea said the next day, TriCare arranged for Toowoomba Hospital representatives to visit the resident and discuss her concerns.

"As a result of those discussions between (the resident) and the hospital representatives, and with an available bed for (her) at the hospital, it was mutually agreed between all parties including (the resident), for her to transfer back to the hospital," he said.

Ms Ballantyne said the case highlighted "dangerous understaffing" at TriCare's Toowoomba facility, where the QNMU had been notified of over 500 nursing hours recently cut from the roster.

Mr O'Shea denied there was any understaffing at any TriCare aged care facilities.

A TriCare media statement dated July 2 said four staff at its Toowoomba facility were made redundant "as a consequence of reduced occupancy … partly attributable to the impact of COVID-19".

"Changes to some employees hours and days of work at our Mt Gravatt and Toowoomba aged care residences have occurred, but these changes are broadly increases or decreases of less than two hours per week," the statement said.

"Staffing at all our aged care residences is determined by occupancy, resident needs and ensuring the appropriate mix of staff over the 24 hour period."

Ms Ballantyne said the QNMU had reported "grave concerns" for the elderly at TriCare facilities in Toowoomba and across the state to both the Royal Aged Care Commission and the Federal Government.

"On July 1 we called on the Federal Government to step in and make some immediate changes because we'd learned that TriCare and other private facilities and providers were cutting hours.

"Basically we've had no response back from the Federal Government so that's concerning."

Staff at Toowoomba were "very reluctant" to speak out about the cuts to hours for "fear of reprisal from the employer", Ms Ballantyne said.

"They have reported there are at least two patient falls a day because there are not enough staff to supervise and monitor residents, nurses are not getting any breaks at all."

Ms Ballantyne said she wanted to thank the nursing, kitchen and cleaning staff at TriCare Toowoomba for "all the hard work they do", adding "they don't seem to be getting any support from management".

"Because we know they are trying to provide the best care they can, it's nice for them to see we do acknowledge they really are doing their best.

"And we do acknowledge the help we get from the media because without that we can't really bring it to light, we already tried to contact who we could and … unless the public become involved the behaviour just continues."

Groom MP Dr John McVeigh said his office became aware late Wednesday, July 29, of a "detailed public Twitter feed that included serious allegations of poor service in what was identified to us as a local aged care facility".

"In line with formal protocols we were obliged to immediately contact the facility to put those public allegations to them and promptly referred the matter to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission and the Office of the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians."

Dr McVeigh said separate anonymous allegations received about the facility late on Thursday, July 30, had also been referred on.

"I encourage anyone with concerns regarding aged care to contact the independent Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission on 1800 951 822."

TriCare was contacted about the patient's allegations and her subsequent transfer from the facility.

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