Sunday, August 9, 2020

The freedom of the press still furnishes that check upon government which no constitution has ever been able to provide – Chicago Tribune.

Home Issue 20 Old Timers Village resident locked in

Old Timers Village resident locked in

By ERWIN CHLANDA

 

For 37 years Alan Viegas was an air traffic controller in Sydney: over most of his working life millions of airline passengers depended on his judgement in one of the world’s busiest airports.

 

Later in life his job brought him to Alice Springs where he retired with a house to his name, a car, a comfortable superannuation, friends to chat with, a favourite cafe, and a hobby reminiscent of his career: a room in his home with a radio transceiver which has a global range, and a morse code key.

 

Today, aged 82, Mr Viegas is virtually a prisoner in the Old Timers – the aged care facility that is an institution in Alice Springs, the favourite charity for many, attracting a huge volunteer turn-out and patronage for its annual fete.

 

Mr Viegas has no property he controls. He says his New Eastside home is being sold against his will. His car has been sold.

 

He lives in a small room for two people. The second bed, separated by a hospital-style curtain, is empty at the moment. Sparsely furnished, it is far from the homey cottages inhabited by retirees like Mr Viegas  at the other end of the complex.

 

His total possessions are in a pile on the floor of his room, with  two paintings left in their bubble wrap (pictured below).

 

He doesn’t have the code that unlocks the door to the outside. He is confined to a small section of Flynn Lodge, part of the complex  run by UnitingCare Queensland on the South Stuart Highway.

 

I visited Mr Viegas (at left) yesterday, upon his invitation, in the company of a long-time carer of his.

 

We told a staff member Mr Viegas had asked us to take him into town.

 

The staffer said she would need to seek permission from Mr Viegas’s daughter and left the room to call her.

 

When she came back she told us permission had been denied, and Mr Viegas had to stay.

 

This denial would seem to deprive Mr Viegas of a basic human right. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights puts it this way: “Everyone lawfully within the territory of a State shall, within that territory, have the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose his residence.”

 

And his whole situation occurs in the wake of  the 2018 Australian Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety that exposed rampant instances of “elder abuse” in facilities across the country.

 

In response to our enquiries, a spokesman for UnitingCare Queensland’s Australian Regional and Remote Community Services (ARRCS) said his organisation “is committed to human rights and the dignity of the person as expressed in both Australian and international laws. We comply with human rights, and we do so in the context of the Aged Care Act 1997 (Cth) and good clinical practice”.

 

The Alice Springs News pieced together the story about Mr Viegas from two interviews with him, 23 and 27 minutes long, which he permitted to be audio recorded, and by speaking with two experienced aged care professionals, who spoke to us on the condition of not being named.

 

Each had daily contact with Mr Viegas for many months.

 

We will call them Carer One and Carer Two. They are committed to obtain justice for Mr Viegas – at their cost: One has been sacked by an aged care provider, and had to find another job.

 

We put a string of questions to Mr Viegas’s daughter who invited us to email them to her.  She then replied: “All of this is none of your business … if this was your dad, seeing him wither away, forgetting to eat, weighing in at 59kg, at 6ft 1, what would you do?”

 

She texted that her  father has frontal lobe dementia and is “in denial about his memory … He is in a lovely place at Flynn Lodge with great staff, so please let them get on with taking care of him”.

 
(We have decided for the time being not to name Mr Viegas’s daughter.)
 

Carer Two says Mr Viegas’s eating problem was well under control: “He was always on the skinny side.

 

“In the cafe he was eating bacon and eggs on toast, then getting vanilla slice, and sometimes going for seconds.” 

 

The carers would make sure he had a light lunch and an evening meal.

 

“That problem was solved,” she says. “It was not enough to put him into a home.”

 

The two carers say their task is now to have Mr Viegas medically re-examined and assist him in having the Power of Attorney held by his daughter revoked.

 

Mr Viegas adamantly stated during our interviews, several times, that he had no idea that he was signing a Power of Attorney, and he was “tricked”.

 

“You have to be able to trust your daughter,” he said.

 

“It seems I signed my life away.”

 
An NT Government website says: “Power of attorney lasts until you withdraw it, it expires, you become incapable of managing your own affairs or you die.”
 

In obvious consternation Mr Viegas listened to Carer Two yesterday, telling him his home in New Eastside had been re-advertised for sale (he had torn down an earlier for sale sign); that his three mobile phones had been smashed, in an apparent attempt to cut his links to his cafe friends; that there was no sign of his computer, containing his life’s records; that some of his belongings had been strewn outside the house or in the open carport. (All of these allegations were put to his daughter, who would not comment on them.)

 

His credit cards had been cancelled, and the only way he can access his savings appears to be going to the bank in person – but he is not allowed to leave the Lodge.

 

The carers are trying to obtain legal representation for Mr Viegas to help get  the Power of Attorney revoked, but say the lodge management refused a lawyer entry to the Lodge.

 

This is part of the cruel Catch 22 into which he has been plunged, to his utter bewilderment.

 

He asked us about a locksmith because his house key won’t work. Carer Two, again, tells him the house is being sold.

 

He showed me a cutting implement he’d bought to yet again remove the For Sale sign.

 

Carer One told me Mr Viegas had been told by his daughter his stay at the lodge would be for a few days only, to see how he liked it.

 

She says she had also witnessed transitional care hospital staff making that statement to Mr Viegas (the News is seeking comment from the hospital).

 

Mr Viegas converses with ease and confidence. He may hesitate at times over a word but soon picks up the thread again. As I am a pilot, we have interests in common.

 

His nickname in the control tower was Shortcut because he managed to thread jetliners into take-off and landing sequences with minimum delays, but “safety was paramount,” he says.

 

He never lost a soul.

 

Both carers say they are working with people much older and less physically and mentally able than Mr Viegas, who still manage to live in their homes.

 

“He never left the stove on, left water running, the fridge door open,”  says Carer Two.

 

“He made daily trips to his favourite cafe, sometimes on his own by public bus.”

 
 
The full statement by UnitingCare Queensland’s spokesman, which addresses none of the substantive issues of this report, can be found here and so can be the questions put to the daughter of Mr Viegas.
 
 
 

28 COMMENTS

  1. It’s sad the way we treat older Australians. Goes to show you need to bring your kids up right as they might be making your decisions later in life. Poor bloke.

  2. Good on you, Erwin for this article. These family guardian issues are always sensitive and private matters that affect so many oldies.
    Aged care is one of the greatest moral challenges of our times.
    In an increasingly fractured wider community, there is a growing need to educate the public on these issues.
    So long as the media approaches all family members and care workers in a respectful manner seeking cooperative responses, with a view to resolving very sad and complex family disputes, the media will provide a valuable community service.

  3. Obviously his family have no love for the man otherwise community care would have been the preferred option.

  4. No surprise that so many people are more scared of going into care than death.
    Stories like this negate all the very good and caring people who really care and do wonderful work with their patients.

  5. One assumes that Alan has been medically examined and declared to have lost capacity.
    If this was not the case he could cancel the power of attorney himself.
    It would be useful to look at that document and follow up with the certifying medical specialist.
    If that document is suspect in any way, for example forged or the daughter exerted undue influence on its execution there could be a criminal matter.
    With the current attention on elder abuse the daughter would have to be very careful and not sell Alan’s property.
    When he gets a lawyer an order will be taken out prohibiting the daughter from selling his assets so he needs to move quickly on the legals.
    As for the Old Timers, I have visited there and was surprised at the extent of locking old people up.
    I was privileged to talk with [name deleted] and was surprised to find that she was also locked down, not in a small room but nevertheless behind a locked door.
    She seemed fine to me.

  6. Daughter, shame on you. Carers well done for looking after him and standing by him. Imagine what would happen to him if no one cared for him. Really, shame on his daughter.

  7. Perhaps the Alice Springs News should get some facts correct. Have you contacted the person in charge over these matters?
    The reason each section not rooms are locked is to stop the elderly from getting outside and then could wander away so it is for their own safety.
    You need guardianship or Power of Attorney if someone is in there full time so this way the family has a say in their care. Otherwise the government / organisation can step in.
    I visit Mountain View each week and they are not locked in their rooms etc and in fact most are out in the lounge room etc.
    Yes, there are many issues with aged care but the residents need to be safe.
    Quite a few of the residents throughout Flynn Lodge can use the keypad to go out but they have to be fit to do so.

  8. @ Ralph: Tribunal-appointed guardians are yearly accountable to the Public Trustee and must satisfy the Trustee that all expenditure must be “the best interests” of the person under his or her guardianship. The Trustee should find it relatively easy to exercise due diligence and audit the expenditure carefully.

  9. @ John Bell: This is not a tribunal appointed power of attorney.
    The daughter organised it and she has it.
    This would be an enduring power of attorney.
    She has complete control of all assets and can do what she likes with them.
    Alan has been deemed to have lost capacity so cannot own anything or make decisions.
    He is really a non person in many respects.
    In law he has no interests, he is completely powerless.
    The enduring power of attorney is a powerful instrument, sometimes necessary but also risky.

  10. It is often a heart-rending decision to place a parent in a home.
    However when 24-hour care is required, it may be the only practical option.
    People with dementia do not realise their own limitations and this can put not only themselves, but others too, at risk.
    When chatting to them, the conversation may seem perfectly rational, but this can mislead people into thinking there is nothing wrong.
    Each case is different and the situation evolves with time.
    Flynn Lodge was expanded in recent years, but probably already needs more rooms.
    It is very difficult time for all concerned, including family and staff, who do their best.

  11. @ Ralph 2. Thanks Ralph.
    I had a situation where an aged rellie who was living on her own with mental issues was persuaded by a home help carer hired through a council home care package to hand financial power of attorney to the Public Trustee without the family’s knowledge.
    The family found out after the fact. it challenged it in VCAT but game over.
    I found out subsequently that certain employees in home care organisations get “spotter fees” from Public Trustee to target oldies living alone to sign over financial power of attorney.
    Horrifying.
    In this Old Timer’s situation, did the daughter approach her father with the knowledge and approval of other family members?
    This whole area of guardianship and power of attorney in the aged care sector needs to be the urgent focus of a public awareness education campaign and government review to protect highly vulnerable oldies as much as possible in our ageing community.
    The protection of our oldies is one of the greatest moral challenges of our time.
    Articles such as this one by Erwin are desperately needed to start the ball rolling.

  12. @ 2 Ralph: If the daughter organised the power of attorney and if she sells any assets of her father’s, the money must be placed in an account for his benefits. No ifs nor buts, and if she uses any of it for herself until he passes she is in breach of the law.

  13. Good on the daughter for taking care of her father. Old Timers Aged Care, AARC, Flynn Lodge staff do a great job.
    I agree with Ralph, JennyWalsh and MandyWebb, each case is different, but these Old Timers are there for their own protection.

  14. This is an outrageous act being locked up.
    I have meet Alan in his favourite place where he likes to have a pot of tea. What a lovely man.
    His amazing stories are great he enjoys going there.
    We miss seeing his smiling face and “good morning how are you”.
    I have read some comments. Do you know this man? If you don’t you don’t know the situation.
    He should not be locked up. He was getting fantastic care in his own home.
    I just can’t believe that this has happened.
    Some people don’t care about their family.
    They don’t live in town. I could say a lot more but that’s for someone to help Alan and stop what is happening to him.
    Thanks for listening.
    A friend.

  15. @ Sandy Taylor: Yes. The Old Timers is is a beautiful, caring place.
    In all of Oz, it is the best.
    That is where I would prefer to be when the Collingwood Cheer Squad finally succeed in having me committed.
    In 2010 I visited Mrs Hocking there.
    Looking out the window in her room and talking to the lovely staff there I thought yes, I would die happy in the Old Timers.

  16. Old age in general is bad enough when people lose some of their physical or intellectual capacities.
    When you add to it the various stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease it compounds tenfold the difficulties, as the persons concerned are too often unaware of their actual situation.
    They can hold a simple conversation with clarity as if their memory was not affected. But their memory span is reduced to a few minutes only, and they live in a re-created world of fantasy, out of “normality”, and they need 24/7 care and supervision. Sad.
    A family member’s power of attorney or a locked main door in a “home” may seem abusive in some situations, but it is the only way to ensure the safety of their loved ones in our modern society.
    In the older days (and today in some cultures), extended families were the norm with three or four generations lovingly (sic?) living together and the younger ones were looking after the older ones. Utopia? Sounds good, but even then abuses existed.
    Old age is not a pretty thing and science tries to increase longevity endlessly. In good health yes, not otherwise.
    By the way, if Mr Viegas was sound in body and mind when he signed the Power of Attorney, why did he hand over his decision making to his daughter in the first place?
    He must have trusted her.
    As far as I am aware it is only in case of medically assessed mental disability that the document takes effect.

  17. Dr Who: The attorney can make decisions about property and financial affairs. This means that they can operate bank accounts, pay bills, and sell or buy property (such as your house or shares).
    In some cases this is necessary, e.g. to pay for the old person to get into a nursing home. But there is no restriction on the use of the money.
    The daughter is legally entitled to sell the property and use the money in any way she likes.
    Alan has been deemed to have lost capacity an is powerless and completely in the hands of his daughter.
    She has done nothing wrong in law.
    The only challenge possible is to the issue of capacity and that is well worth taking up.
    If another doctor says he has not lost capacity he can regain control over his own finances.

  18. If Alan simply signed over a power of attorney he doesn’t need a lawyer to revoke it. There is a freely available form for this purpose on the internet.
    If he has been deemed to have lost capacity he needs to be assessed again because he does not present as someone who has lost the capacity to make decisions over their own affairs.

  19. So far, eleven people have commented on this issue in Alice Springs News.
    Personal experience has been that there are usually no winners when family care issues like this become public in any form of the media.
    There must be a silent majority of readers out there who have experienced similar family care issues that affect so many families so deeply so often these days.
    Is there any possibility that an Alice community forum can be convened to discuss all aspects of cases like this, with a major emphasis on genuinely reaching out in a spirit of goodwill and compassion to all concerned, whatever our individual views, to offer assistance – to embrace everyone in a spirit of family?
    To vulnerable old mums and dads, loving and distressed daughters and sons, members of family, carers?
    To show that the community cares?

  20. “Friends of Alan” believe he definitely has the capacity to make choices about his home, his living, his OWN guardian, his personal treasured effects etc.
    We are begging he be re assessed to live at home with community care staff visits.
    The saddest news today is that someone has hired a skip bin (daughter? real estate?) and it is now in front of his home. We presume to “dispose” of his personal belongings?
    Today Alan asked and has been recorded asking to have his Power of Attorney revoked but he needs to be “allowed” out or visitors in order to do so.
    How can his rights be taken like this when he is a genuinely intelligent and lucid man?
    Staff at Flynn Lodge say: “This is not right what his daughter is doing to Alan.”

  21. @ Maya: It’s all well and good to share your opinions, it’s just a shame that you have generalised this particular case and not based it on the facts.

  22. Perhaps interested parties could obtain legal advice and assistance and lodge a complaint for hearing with the Northern territory Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NTCAT).

  23. Thank you Erwin for bringing this situation to light. If there is a lawyer out there who can help, PLEASE contact Erwin NOW!
    [ED – I would pass on any information to Mr Viegas. Erwin Chlanda, Editor.]

  24. @ Mecchi: You know it takes two to tango, so unless you speak to the daughter to have her side of the story, you have not the full picture.
    [ED – We gave the daughter two invitations to comment and sent her several questions. Her answer: “None of your business.” Erwin Chlanda, Editor.]

  25. Oh, dear dear dear, what a minefield of seemingly lawful, divisive trickery, and of course, somewhere in the meddling mix is a so called religious organisation.

  26. @Max Gillies: Your comment “religious organisation” appears to imply that the Old Timers is dodgy because it is administered by a Christian faith.
    Your comment does a grave disservice to the wonderful care that religious faiths give to people of all ages who are in need.
    For any sins of negligent care that these faith organisations may be guilty, there are equal if not more sins of negligent care that proliferate in the secular non-religious public and private.
    Because they do not identify with any religion they fly under the anti-religious radar of the critical public and are systemically much harder to pin down.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here