Aged staff sexually abused, hit residents

Megan Neil
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AGED CARE ROYAL COMMISSION

Health Dept team leader Peter O'Brien said 900 suspected incidents have been referred this year

Staff at three aged care facilities have allegedly slapped residents, hit one in the face with a water bottle and sexually assaulted another.

Twenty incidents of alleged physical and sexual abuse at the three facilities have been reported by Japara Healthcare to the federal health department over the past three years.

Counsel assisting the aged care royal commission Brooke Hutchins said the alleged physical assaults included a staff member throwing a call bell at a resident and an employee hitting a resident in the face with a water bottle.

Ms Hutchins said there were a number of cases of staff slapping residents on the face.

She said one resident was slapped when a staff member was putting large spoons of food in their mouth, which was already full. The resident did not want any more food.

Ms Hutchins said the nature of the alleged sexual assaults also appeared serious, including an instance of staff members touching residents on the genitals.

She said the health department decided in each case that it did not need to take any further action.

"There was not one report where the alleged circumstance was escalated within the department or referred for further consideration by another body," she told a Brisbane hearing on Tuesday.

A previous public hearing dealt with a separate case, when a woman installed a hidden camera to catch a carer assaulting her father at a Japara facility in Adelaide.

The carer was later jailed over the aggravated assault.

This time the royal commission's focus is how the health department responded to the 20 cases reported by Japara under its compulsory reporting obligations, involving three facilities in NSW and Victoria.

Aged care providers have to report allegations or suspicions of physical or sexual assaults to the department within 24 hours.

Departmental staff assess what steps the aged care providers have taken, if they have met their reporting obligations and the nature of the allegation.

"It's mainly if they've taken steps to make sure the resident is not potentially at further risk and the care and wellbeing of the resident has been taken into account," compulsory reporting team leader Peter O'Brien said.

"The incident could be quite nasty and they might have taken four or five steps to prevent a re-occurrence, but we still might take further action simply because of the nature of the incident."

He said cases where a resident suffered a severe injury or required hospitalisation were generally referred to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission.

Mr O'Brien, who will be questioned further on Wednesday, said the team had made 900 referrals this year.

The royal commission on Monday heard there were 4013 notifications of alleged or suspected physical and/or sexual assaults in 2017/18.

Senior counsel assisting the commission Peter Gray QC said KPMG estimated there were 10,500 unreported incidents each year under an exemption to the reporting requirement, where the assaults were committed by residents with a cognitive impairment.