Is a Residential Aged Care Facility merely a Waiting Room for Death? – Viv Allanson

Many contribute to humanity till their last breath


from Luke’s Journal 2020 | Ageing Gracefully | Vol.25 No.3

A group of 5 smiling elderly people.

In my experience this is a question, a statement, and an entrenched belief for individuals and society as a whole.

My personal view is that the Aged Care service I lead is more like God’s Living Room rather than God’s waiting room. In fact, I frequently find myself gently challenging the many people who have formed the view that Aged Care is merely a waiting room for death, and that nothing of value happens there.

You see, when we even repeat that belief (some people say it as if it is funny) we are reinforcing the general societal view that older people have little value or have no contribution to make to their families, their community, and even to humanity. My expectation for older people is that they have the right to live out the full number of their days – long and strong!

Entry into an Aged Care service should not be the opportunity to give up on our life goals and aspirations or our contribution to society, or have others give up for us when we can no longer exercise our voice. Sadly, the federal government recently formalised the devaluing of older people by removing the Charter of Residents Rights and Responsibilities and replacing it with the ‘Charter of Residents Rights’. Yes, they removed ‘Responsibilities’ from the charter. What modern democracy has ever removed the basic human right for an individual to have both social rights and social responsibilities? I continue to be outraged by this demeaning gesture on the part of our political leaders, however I never miss the opportunity to step up and remind our residents that they continue to make a difference to our society, and indeed, humanity. I encourage each one that they have not finished the good works that they were created to do until their last breath.

After 28 years working in the Aged Care sector, I can say that Older people are spectacular human beings and long to make a difference to others … and they do! 

“Older people are spectacular human beings and long to make a difference to others …and they do!”

In November 2013, I met a nun from South Africa at a conference in China. She was sent to work in a very poor Black (Sr Lucia’s description, not mine) Rural Aged Care service in Kwazulu Natal and had no prior healthcare experience whatsoever. I made a commitment to bring her to Australia to experience Aged Care in another nation and to personally support her journey. As soon as I said it I thought: “How on earth will I raise the funds to bring her to Oz?” Upon my return, one of my staff asked me to give the Christmas message to our residents, so I began with: “Is there room in our inn for Jesus this Christmas?” then began to tell Sr Lucia’s story and the life of older people in St Antonines Nursing Home in Kwazulu Natal – the poorest of the poor. I then asked: “Was there room in our inn for Sr Lucia this Christmas?” To my dismay, people started leaving the room. I immediately thought: “This isn’t going down well… Was it that Sr Lucia is dark skinned? Is it that she is a nun? Is it that she is a foreigner, what could it be?” But wait, those same high care residents began to return waving $5, $10 and $20 notes at me. Noel, who was a retired missionary, came forward with his $2 coin that he had planned to spend on a cappuccino. They all had tears in their eyes as they just wanted to make room for Sr Lucia and her residents from St Antonines.

It didn’t stop there. One lady who has been confined to a water chair for two decades and can’t even scratch her nose, sent for me and asked how much it would cost to bring Sr Lucia to Australia. I suggested about $5000 by the time we covered visas, transport, and bribes. She smiled and whispered: “I can afford that, let’s make it happen.”

Over the following months, all the residents and staff continued to raise funds so that when Sr Lucia arrived in May 2014 on Maroba’s red carpet we gave her a further $2000 so that she could purchase items needed for her nursing home upon her return. Sr Lucia and her understudy Sr Busi returned to Australia a couple of years ago and some residents continue to contribute from their pensions to support her. I love to remind our residents of their compassion, generosity and ongoing contribution to society and the difference they have made to humanity. They have truly touched the nations with the love of God.

Our residents were excited to send me off to St Antonines in 2015, where 2 of us spent 3 weeks working and living with the team there: nursing, painting, doing policies, food preparation, washing up, maintenance, training, doing activities and participating in their faith-filled services and even the privilege of preparing the deceased for burial at the back of the nursing home. Upon my return, everyone couldn’t wait to learn of all that took place and what life was like. We connected our residents and theirs on Skype many times to learn more of each other’s way of life. Yes, older people are interested in the plight of those across the globe.

Maroba residents continue to support many causes and continue to be generous with their time, their resources and their words – a great example to us all of being an effective global citizen. They continue to sign up for gym memberships, beauty therapy, and everything that is on offer, so don’t believe for a minute that Aged Care is the beginning of the end.

“They continue to sign up for gym memberships, beauty therapy, and everything that is on offer, so don’t believe for a minute that Aged Care is the beginning of the end”.

When residents pass away, we honour them in death and remember their contribution to each of us that have shared our lives with theirs. As they leave the building we form a Guard of Honour at the front door so that they leave through the same door as they entered. The whole team participates: carers, admin, maintenance, housekeeping, laundry, catering, volunteers, and residents. We hold several memorial services throughout the year and we share stories with families and other residents about each one. I always love to remind families that their Mum or Dad or both at times were wonderful role models to us younger ones of what a faithful bond of marriage looks like in a world where marriage is disposable. I love to reflect on the way they taught us to be good friends to each other and how they led the way in sustainability in a wasteful world. Yes, they contributed to humanity until their last breath. 

It is important for our residents that we demonstrate to them while they are well and active what the end will look like, so that when it gets close for them they too know they will be honored, talked about and remembered in positive ways.

So next time you think or even say that Aged Care facilities are God’s Waiting Room … think again, change your thought, change your talk and raise the profile and value of older people by believing that being a contributor to the common good and engaging in humanitarian efforts should never depend on where you live or the means of mobility required, but more on the attitude of the people around you!

Viv Allanson
Viv is a Registered Nurse and has held the position of CEO of Maroba for over two decades. Viv has devoted herself to caring for people in need her entire career and has extensive experience in the Aged Care and the Business Sector. 

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