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The trials of finding a good nursing home

  • 20 September 2018


Until recently, I was your typical, middle-aged Aussie who spent very little time thinking about the quality of nursing home care. I'm a member of the generation that thinks of ourselves as the centre of the public universe. We are the workforce. We are the parents of kids in school. We are peak-hour public transport users. We are the ones who pay full price. So, we don't think about nursing homes much, until it's something a loved one needs.

It happened to me back in 2013. My dad, who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer some six years earlier, was not coping well with chemotherapy. He'd managed to maintain his independence through six years of treatments and a bout of skin cancer. But now he needed chemo.

I scheduled a flight back to Australia timed to celebrate the end of the last dose, but Mum called to say he wasn't doing so good. 'He can't walk up the stairs, Rachel.' He needed 24-hour care, and Mum — who worked full-time and was half his size — just wasn't able to be his nurse, no matter how much she wished she could.

So he went into hospital and we started to think about nursing homes. I had visions of him in a nice room he could call his own, where he could receive visitors and play bingo in the afternoons. In hindsight, I can't believe I didn't realise how close he was to the end — he could barely lift himself up into a sitting position in bed. But when you are losing a parent your brain doesn't work rationally. 

Because my dad was eligible for fully subsidised care, we were given a list of potential nursing homes that took people like him. While we worked to find him a permanent place, he was put in a temporary one, unfortunately far away from us. The decision-makers gave no thought to my mum's battling public transport and the traffic, but it seemed like a nice place. We thought Dad was just being difficult when he begged us to take him home.

After having no joy convincing my mum, he rang and begged me. Startled, I explained he was just too sick. He angrily hung up on me, very out of character for my normally jovial dad. When we visited, we'd find him lying there with his beanie pulled low, covering his eyes, shutting out the world. Later,