As an olive farmer and keen gardener, Vittoria Primerano loved making sure her neighbours were well fed.
So it’s ironic, her daughter Maria Sampey says, that her carers in a Melbourne nursing home were so run off their feet they would forget to feed her.
The Italian great-grandmother celebrated her 100th birthday at home, a milestone her family believes she would not have made if she was left in aged care.
Sampey is one of thousands of Australians increasingly shunning aged-care services and instead turning to in-home supports for their loved ones.
As many as 11 people a day are dying in Australian care homes from COVID-related illnesses.
Staff at the home where Primerano had been cared for were simply overwhelmed, and Sampey believes the “awful treatment” her mum received is a symptom of a broken system.
“The aged care facility enforced their own (COVID-19) restrictions, where it made it impossible to check she was being cared for,” Sampey said.
“I knew I had to get her out.”
She believes her mum was ignored and forgotten in the home, in stark contrast to the life her mother lived in Melbourne’s southeastern suburbs.
“Mum was a keen gardener,” Sampey said.
“She would distribute the fresh produce far and wide, she really cared for others.”
A royal commission in Victoria investigated COVID-19 outbreaks in the aged-care sector, but Sampey wasn’t satisfied.
She said people were too scared to complain for fear of repercussions.
“The nursing homes are a law unto themselves, and my complaints fell on deaf ears,” Sampey said.
“I felt like I was in a corner beating my head against a brick wall. There was and is no action happening.”
There have been more than 1500 COVID deaths in aged-care homes this year, with at least one fatality recorded across 596 facilities.
At the height of the pandemic 176,000 people were using home-care services, a significant increase on the 51,000 people receiving support a decade earlier.
In-home equipment providers such as Solace Sleep have noticed the surge, particularly in Victoria.
Founder Darren Nelson said lockdowns that prevented families checking on relatives in aged care were a major concern.
“That was one of the major things — people really were desperate for their family members to avoid aged care,” he said.
Anika Wells, who was sworn in as the new federal aged care minister on Wednesday, has been contacted for comment.