Cause for complaint at Jewish Care?

FROM patients receiving incorrect medication to poor quality food and unresponsive staff, a group of Gary Smorgon House residents are complaining about the service provided by Jewish Care.

Gary Smorgon House was opened in 2009 as Jewish Care’s flagship aged-care facility. Built from scratch in the heart of Caulfield, the building quickly filled with elderly Jewish
residents from all backgrounds.

But in recent months, a group of residents and their families has lodged serious complaints with Jewish Care top brass and, after struggling to get what they consider satisfactory results, has decided to go public.

Jewish Care chief executive Bill Appleby denied there are problems with the nursing home, pointing to the fact that it passed all its accreditation and standards checks.

“Gary Smorgon House, as with all aged-care facilities, undergoes a routine procedure of assessment, including both announced and un-announced visits by the standards and accreditation agency,” Appleby explained. “We are proud to say that we have passed all such assessments consistently with the highest results.”

As recently as three months ago, Jewish Care passed a surprise audit with “flying colours”, according to Appleby.

But Dr Ian Barabash and his sister Syndon Barabash are so disgruntled with the care at Gary Smorgon House that they have booked their father in for a two-week trial at a non-Jewish nursing home.

The Barabashes and other families have major concerns in a number of areas.

The first surrounds the quality of food. Complaints that food is not culturally appropriate and that diets are not balanced were expressed by a number of family members.

Dr Barabash, an obstetrician, described “a paucity of fresh fruit and vegetables” and said even though his father had sat on the residents’ food committee, there were no long-term improvements in food quality.

“There is often an acute response and then, after a while, there is not,” he said.

A relative of another resident, who did not wish to be named because they were trying to maintain a “positive relationship and non-aggressive approach” towards Jewish Care, also described food that would be impossible for people with dentures to eat, and unappetising looking dishes.

Another serious concern related to apparent staffing problems at Gary Smorgon House.

“There is a lot of unhappiness among the staff,” Dr Barabash reported.

Asked how they express that, he replied: “They resign.”

Aaron Leibovich accused staff of failing to deliver adequate care, accusing them of leaving his frail mother-in-law on a trolley outside the nurses station so she could be “supervised”, leaving her uncomfortable and with no privacy.

He spoke of a particular day when agency nurses failed to give his father-in-law his regular medication, leaving him agitated. He also claimed his mother-in-law had fallen off her trolley onto her face because staff did not respond to her calls to be helped to the toilet.

Lana Zaitsen, the daughter of a high-care resident in Gary Smorgon House, claimed her mother was often forced to eat alone in her room because she had allergies, as staff said they could not look after her in the dining room with other residents.

Zaitsen added there were so few staff she had to hire a private nurse to ensure her mother, who is incontinent, could be kept clean and could attend group activities.

In response, Jewish Care CEO Appleby again referred to the fact that Jewish Care was acting in full accordance with industry standards.

“In terms of staffing, it is worth noting that the Federal Government’s Complaints Investigation Scheme looked into a claim of understaffing at Gary Smorgon House last year and concluded that staffing there is ‘appropriate and consistent with the industry norm’,” he reported. “A number of other issues raised by residents and their families have also been the subject of rigorous investigation by the Federal Government’s Complaints Investigation Scheme over the past several months; in each one of these cases, there was found to be no evidence of substandard conduct or breach whatsoever.”

Jewish Care has held a number of meetings with residents’ families in recent months in a bid to improve care and alleviate concerns. While relatives praised Jewish Care’s willingness to listen, they griped that meeting outcomes have not been acted upon and no time line for change has been introduced.

Syndon Barabash reported: “One manager told my father that they have a three-year plan to fix everything. My father replied that he’ll be dead before then.”

Appleby conceded Gary Smorgon House is not perfect, but maintained his pride in the Freeman Street facility. He also said new feedback forms had been provided to residents’ families.

“Commissioning new residential facilities is a complex undertaking and it takes time to achieve a heimish feel. Staff in residential care work extremely hard in situations which are often very difficult and emotionally charged. I have nothing but praise and admiration for our staff and the quality of care they provide,” he said.

“As home to 120 elders of our Jewish community, Gary Smorgon House is continuously improving. A large majority of our residents are very satisfied with the service, and a sense of pride is emerging among our residents, families, staff and volunteers.”

NAOMI LEVIN