Age has not wearied her – Merle continues to advocate from aged care facility

Merle Mitchell has spent her life advocating for other people, so it was a shocking for her to realise how difficult it was to advocate for herself after she moved into a nursing home in Glen Waverley.

The former President of the Australian Council of Social Services was forced to move into care with her ill husband, Eric, after she broke her back in a fall. Her husband died six months later, adding to the grief and loss she felt at losing her home, her privacy, her independence and connection to the community.

But after a lifetime of service, Merle soon embraced her new role as an Aged Care Services Consumer Advocate, working with the Future Social Service Institute as an Expert by Experience to inform the curriculum for the Certificate III (Aged Care and Disability).

Merle has been one of many experts who have contributed their time and knowledge to improve FSSI’s new curriculum. The revamped course has an emphasis on empathy, with virtual reality modules literally ensuring students have a first-hand insight into what it is like to be a receiver of care.

Merle has also participated in a video on the importance of staff bereavement training created by COTA, which is being used for training purposes (click here to view the video) by Swinburne University.

‘We still live in an ageist society and I don’t think we can wait to make things better; we need better supervision, better level of staffing and better training of staff,’ Merle says.

‘It is absolutely important, essential really, to have input from experts by experience, because staff don’t have the understanding of really basic stuff – like how taking just a couple of minutes to talk to people makes all the difference,’ Merle says.

‘They need an understanding of people’s feelings and to take into account how much the way they treat people affects those people emotionally.’

She hopes her input will ensure graduates will pick up on details that are so important. ‘Like if they don’t open the curtains in my room in the morning, I really feel like I’m in jail.’

Merle believes all aged care facilities should have a bereavement counsellor and staff should be trained to understand grief and loss.

‘There needs to be an understanding that loss is not just someone dying.’

And staff need to understand actions, such as referring to residents by their room number rather than by name or forcing them to adhere to strict mealtimes, also adds to that loss.

Merle says she has enjoyed participating in the curriculum redesign.

‘Making a difference has always been the theme of my life and coming in here and thinking that wasn’t going to happen anymore was one of the losses I had to cope with. Being involved with FSSI has made me feel I am making a contribution after all, because training needs input from those who are experiencing things as they are now; involvement is very different from observation.’

Click here for details on how to enrol in the FSSI Certificate III (Aged Care and Disability).