Advocacy Group Raises Alarm

The legal community has an important role to play in enforcing the rights of aged care residents in Australia.

Aged-care Legal Advocacy and Reform Matter (ALARM) is a not-for-profit organisation established in October 2020 to promote the welfare of aged care residents in Australia.

ALARM has three key objectives:

  • to ensure residents of aged care facilities and their families and friends have access to legal support and services
  • to ensure law reform occurs in the aged care sector
  • to provide legal education to the aged care community and legal practitioners.

ALARM chair Dr Bryan Keon-Cohen QC (Victorian Bar, retired), says: “Aged care residents, their families and loved ones, need to be informed that residents have a voice, have legal rights. ALARM is here to do that”.

Dr Keon-Cohen is no stranger to advocating for the legal rights of community groups in Australia, including seeking law reform through test cases in the High Court. He appeared in, among others, the Dams Case, representing the Tasmanian Wilderness Society (1983) and Mabo (1992) and Wik (1996) representing the Indigenous plaintiffs.

ALARM aims to work with legal, community and government agencies.

Residents of aged care facilities often feel vulnerable and need support to determine their legal rights. Many residents are unlikely or unable to complain about abusive practices due to a range of factors, including fear of retribution from their provider and diminished capacity.

ALARM provides a website (https://www.alarm.org.au/) and telephone referral services to residents and families who seek legal redress due to financial, emotional or physical damage suffered in an aged care facility. Complainants are supported by ALARM’s allied law firms that specialise in aged care matters.

Residents in aged care facilities in Australia need clarification of their rights. ALARM is developing a series of plain-English, focused educational materials on a range of topics (for example, what constitutes restraint, medical negligence, breach of contract, assaults) plus more technical material to ensure practitioners have the expertise to deal with and understand the issues relevant to aged cared residents.

Reform of the Aged Care Act 1997 (Cth) consistent with the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety is essential to enable the delivery of comprehensive, sustainable and measurable services to older Australians. ALARM has the depth of experience and expertise to actively participate in drafting necessary reforms and is seeking representation in government law reform processes now underway.

ALARM is seeking to drive the legal community, governments, the aged care sector and concerned community groups to work together to eliminate the unacceptable levels of neglect and improve accountability and governance in aged care. An immediate concern is to ensure commonsense reforms related to unacceptable staff training and remuneration and residents’ nutrition are implemented urgently.

ALARM is supported by volunteers, including law students, legal practitioners and academics experienced in aged-care administration and elder law, and allied community organisations around Australia. ALARM’s services are much needed, given that the recent Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety found that many facilities have, over many years, repeatedly failed to deliver acceptable standards of care.

The legal community has an important role to play in enforcing the legal rights of residents in aged care in Australia.

ALARM would welcome the active involvement of volunteer practitioners and academics with experience in the aged care sector to provide input, especially in relation to ALARM’s law reform and legal education activities. Contact Dr Bryan Keon-Cohen by email bkeoncohen@gmail.com. We also welcome law firms interested in providing legal services support as an allied law firm to contact ALARM.

This article was published in the Law Institute Journal.