Jewish Care under fire

JEWISH Care in Melbourne has dismissed a raft of shocking allegations levelled at its residential aged-care facilities Smorgon Family Nursing Home, Montefiore Homes Community Residence and the Mark and Dina Munzer Community Residence.

The AJN has been inundated in recent months with complaints from relatives of residents at the Jewish Care homes as well as employees, who painted a bleak picture of the aged-care provider, describing hunger strikes, substandard food, appalling hygiene practices, chronic staff shortages and rough treatment of residents by carers.

Some of the most unsettling allegations include health concerns arising from management’s failure to remove excrement from under residents’ fingernails before mealtimes and another incident in which a resident was served only a poached egg for dinner.

The AJN also understands that Jewish Care took the extraordinary step of banning at least two people from seeing their loved ones following disagreements with staff and management.

Jewish Care executives, including CEO Bill Appleby, general manager services for older people Meigan Lefebure, general manager of cultural and spiritual services Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant, and general manager of development Robbie Franco vehemently denied all the allegations.

Anne Radovilsky, whose mother was a resident at Smorgon Family Nursing Home, said she was forced to remove her mother from the home, when she lost 10 kilograms after going on a hunger strike in protest of the poor care she was receiving.

Radovilsky claims registered nurses have either been sacked or had their hours greatly reduced in favour of less qualified personal care assistants (PCAs), resulting in substandard care. “I was losing her [my mother],” said Radovilsky. “She is a very nice person, a very quiet person, never caused any problems. All those years [at Smorgon Family Nursing Home] she was loved by everyone.

Radovilsky said that while her mother suffers from dementia, her cognitive ability was only mildly impaired. “I took a week [off] from work. I wanted to see what is going on there. The doctor told me I had to prepare myself [for the worst]. I ­wasn’t going to prepare myself, it wasn’t her time.”

She said Jewish Care dismissed her claims that her mother was refusing food in protest of conditions at the facility, instead blaming behavioural problems. But Radovilsky said once her mother was moved to another home, she quickly regained the lost weight. “She is beautiful there. She is eating … She is happy.”

The AJN has been told of at least one other hunger strike by residents at Jewish Care aged-care facilities, but Lefebure denied any such incidents had occurred.

“There have been no hunger strikes whatsoever here. I can categorically tell you, no.”

Lefebure also dismissed complaints as being motivated by “guilt and fear”.

“We deal with people who are going through incredibly stressful situations. They’ve got lots of emotions that aren’t always very positive ones, guilt and fear and distress are pretty negative emotions for people to manage,” she said.

Lefebure did concede that registered nurses were being overlooked in favour of PCAs under a “new staffing model”.

Ronit Fraid, daughter of Mark and Dina Munzer for whom the Mark and Dina Munzer Community Residence is named, said “the love is gone”.

“This was meant to be the gold standard, this was meant to be a place where people were respected and loved, and treated with the greatest care possible,” Fraid said. “How we treat our elderly, vulnerable folk is one of the most important issues that there are. There are problems with Jewish Care across the board, not just at Munzer House.

“At the end of the day, if your staff are not happy, if you’re understaffed, if you’re not paying them well … If they’ve been threatened perhaps … That will pass on to the people that they care for.”

The AJN understands a complaint was lodged with the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) regarding its Mark and Dina Munzer Community Residence, with Appleby confirming that Jewish Care had been contacted by VEOHRC, while complaints raised with the Department of Health and Ageing’s Aged Care Complaints Scheme are also currently being investigated.

Lilliana Ash, whose father died while in care at Montefiore last year after 10 years in the home, said she was lied to by management about a fall in which her father was injured.

“Two weeks prior to [my father’s] death – a person who couldn’t lift a finger, let alone move in the bed – found himself on the floor,” Ash recalled. She said management explained that her father had fallen despite being almost totally incapacitated, but retracted that version of events in a letter sent to Ash following his death, which concluded he had been “positioned incorrectly”.

Ash told The AJN she raised concerns about hygiene with management, but that her proposal to clean residents’ hands prior to meals fell on deaf ears. “When the meal is being served nobody looks at [residents’] hands. There is not enough personnel to take them and wash them. Just wipe their hands. Have a certain dignity about sitting and eating meals.”

Jewish Care CEO Bill Appleby responds:

“Jewish Care is committed to maintaining the highest levels of professional and ethical service and quality standards, which is a critically important aspect of preserving credibility and trust in the eyes of our respected clients, supporters, community members, partners and industry bodies.

“Providing the highest standards of care for residents in all of our aged-care facilities is our top priority.

“The federal government’s Aged Care Standards and Accreditation Agency has fully accredited all of our facilities for the maximum three-year period. They remain satisfied with the high level of care and support being provided by our aged-care homes.

“All of our homes, including Montefiore and Munzer, are compliant with all of the agency’s 44 expected outcomes. These cover health and personal care, resident lifestyle, physical environment and safety and management systems, staffing and organisational development.

“Montefiore and Munzer were last audited in February 2012 and August 2011 respectively, and have since passed a number of routine unannounced “spot audits” by the agency.

“Jewish Care has a mature and formal feedback system, where any stakeholders can raise concerns, make compliments or log complaints. This system guarantees issues are tracked, monitored and reported. We always communicate outcomes to the stakeholder in response to any concerns or complaints.

“As an approved aged-care provider, it is not unusual to have contact with the Department of Health and Ageing. Anyone can access the Aged Care Complaints Scheme to lodge a complaint or concern and they will investigate those concerns impartially. With any external body, Jewish Care is always fully cooperative, open and transparent.”

ADAM KAMIEN

Jewish Care CEO Bill Appleby.