Barbara Spriggs inside her Adelaide Hills home.
Barbara Spriggs inside her Adelaide Hills home. AAP Image/ Morgan Sette

Senior of the Year: Hard journey will deliver good outcomes

THE Aged Care Royal Commission announcement was greeted with unabashed delight by South Australian Senior of the Year and Aged Care reform campaigner Barbara Spriggs.

It was her work in exposing the atrocities at the Oakden Older Person's Mental Health Services facility that started the unravelling of a distressing tale of institutional neglect in Aged Care venues across Australia.

"I just felt wow, I can't believe this," an emotional Barbara said when her son contacted her with the news.

"Finally, the enormity of the situation is being recognised," she said to Seniors News.

"It needed to be done. This is a huge step forward in the right direction. It's a real wake up call to what has been going on. We need to make people more accountable and let Australians know these people aren't able to get away with the things that have been going on."

Barbara wants the Royal Commission to address two keys areas - staffing and prosecution of abuse offenders.

"Finding the right people, training them properly, paying them properly, and making them more accountable so that they are doing the right thing by the people in aged care," she said. "They should hand-pick the right staff".

She also wants the Commission to deal with people who have done wrong. "Where are they now?" Barbara demanded. "They should lose the right to work in any aged care facilities anywhere in Australia. If they are dismissed from one aged care place, they should be stopped from working in another in that state or any other state. The system doesn't allow this at the moment."

It was more than 10 years ago when Barbara started to realise her husband Bob was being chemically and physically restrained at the Oakden facility. Bob was accommodated there due to his Parkinson's and other complex health issues. It was her absolute determination to find answers and for the public to be made aware of the crisis that led to an Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry.

The damning chronicled patient abuse at Oakden finally led to it being permanently close in September last year. But the story didn't end there. In the last month several game-changing Federal Government Aged Care funding and administrative changes have also been announced. The Royal Commission is the next step in the change process.

Barbara is watching from afar the immediate responses to the Commission as she continues to rebuild her emotional strength. She has been on holiday in the England, but still not removed from the Australian stories, nor of local ones.

Her ear is still tuned, currently to stories about aged care facilities in the UK. Her brother was in one while he was dying of a brain tumour. "It was a good home," she said. "The ratio of staff to patients was higher than she has seen in Australian facilities."

While she doesn't have any involvement with the Royal Commission, Barbara wants to continue helping to make a difference in the state of Aged Care in Australia.

It sounds like she is readying herself for another worthwhile battle to ensure her husband's legacy of better care and respect for older Australians doesn't get forgotten. "The journey will be hard, but the destination will be worthwhile," Barbara emphatically stated.

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