Fire brings Australian aged care into the spotlight
A fire that ripped through an Australian aged care facility has abruptly shone a light on this mostly hidden portion of our population.
Nine elderly people were killed, and many more were injured, in a fire that has now been concluded to be arson. One of the nurses has been taken into custody, awaiting trial for murder.
Beyond the human tragedy of the fire, there has been a ripple effect through Australian society. There have been calls for better fire regulation of elderly homes, which are needed but will probably lead to the collapse of several facilities that cannot pay for the expensive renovations to comply.
More interestingly, perhaps, has been the public reaction to the event. It has demonstrated that the general public remains uniquely uncomfortable about the concept of aging, and the way their elderly relatives are treated. New stories that showed pictures of the elderly lying in ambulances outside the burned facility received complaints for “gross insensitivity”. Many treated the story with shock. This is, in part, due to the way our society keeps our elderly hidden. Seeing the lives and treatment of the elderly is profoundly uncomfortable for the public, who don’t like to think about people so dependent on others for food, movement, and support.
The aging population is not a problem that will go away if it is ignored. Indeed, the slower we act, the worse the problem will become. It is essential that we turn this lack of comfort with the elderly into a driving force for change. Otherwise the future of our society is in jeopardy.