A Waikato retirement home's care was compared to a concentration camp in a complaint from the past year, and a resident in another facility allegedly had fractures from falls and unexplained black eyes.
Twelve complaints were made about Waikato rest homes for the 12 months up to September 2013, and shortfalls were identified in seven cases.
But union officials say complaint numbers would be significantly lower if staffing levels were regulated and caregivers were paid more than the minimum wage.
Complaint investigation reports released to the Waikato Times under the Official Information Act show four complaints about Radius Maeroa Lodge - two of them substantiated, two substantiated complaints for Oceania Raeburn, and one substantiated complaint each for Kintala Lodge Rest Home, Radius St Joan's Care Centre and Hillview Rest Home.
Complaints against Kenwyn Rest Home, Oceania Tokoroa, and Kingswood Rest Home were not substantiated.
An anonymous complaint against the Oceania Raeburn Rest Home in Cambridge included claims residents were neglected, treatment was "not more than that of a concentration camp", evidence of physical abuse and problems with wound care.
Following the complaint, an unannounced HealthCERT inspection found "a significant amount of clinical oversight to ensure safety and quality of care".
Business and care manager Jill Briscoe said she had earlier prompted an investigation of a staff member at the home who was subsequently dismissed after allegations of abuse. Mrs Briscoe said Raeburn Rest Home was a "fantastic" facility and well supported by the Oceania Group.
It isn't the first time Radius Maeroa Lodge has featured - it was told by the Ministry of Health in September 2011 to improve services or risk losing funding, and received two more substantiated complaints in the following year.
More recent issues related to "care provided, stolen items, actions of GP", and a resident who spent two months in the home before her death.
The lodge was asked to review all new residents on admission, maintain more detailed clinical documentation, and improve communication systems.
The most recent audit found just one area for improvement - call bells for residents.
Radius Care managing director Brien Cree said all complaints were investigated by working with all parties involved.
"Where a complaint is substantiated we endeavour to make changes to our processes and services to ensure it doesn't happen again."
In Claudelands' Kintala Lodge Rest Home, a family member complained their relative had multiple falls, lost a significant amount of weight, and had black eyes which staff couldn't explain.
Kintala Lodge provides specialist dementia care, and alsoreceived two complaints in the September 2011-2012 period.
However, the most recent certification audit found no areas for improvement and the "high quality of service" was applauded in a letter from the district health board.
The resident in the most recent complaint received four "significant" fractures in 12 months, and lost 14.3kg, according to an unannounced inspection report from March 2013.
The provider was asked to look at weight-management plans, registered nurse hours, and the high rate of falls, the report said.
The rest home manager said they passed recertification "with flying colours" and all criteria were fully attained. "We work really hard with these lovely residents here," she said.
But union officials say problems could be avoided by addressing wider issues within the sector.
A lack of regulation around staffing levels was a major concern for New Zealand Nurses Organisation industrial adviser David Wait.
"Employers effectively get to choose what they think the appropriate staffing level is, and generally speaking the staffing levels are too low . . . I think there's probably a direct impact in terms of complaints, because people just don't have time to provide the quality care that they want to." The organisation also wants mandatory training for caregivers - who can work at rest home and hospital level without training or qualifications and are often on or just above minimum wage.
Service and Food Workers Union industry lead Alastair Duncan said carers were talking about "the good old days" when they could spend time with a patient. "They're running."
Aged care was under-funded and under-valued, he said, and residents were coming with higher needs.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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