Wall cavity

This service may include material from Agence France-Presse (AFP), APTN, Reuters, AAP, CNN and the BBC World Service which is copyright and cannot be reproduced.

AEST = Australian Eastern Standard Time which is 10 hours ahead of GMT (Greenwich Mean Time)


This service may include material from Agence France-Presse (AFP), APTN, Reuters, AAP, CNN and the BBC World Service which is copyright and cannot be reproduced.

AEST = Australian Eastern Standard Time which is 10 hours ahead of GMT (Greenwich Mean Time)

fungus growth

This service may include material from Agence France-Presse (AFP), APTN, Reuters, AAP, CNN and the BBC World Service which is copyright and cannot be reproduced.

AEST = Australian Eastern Standard Time which is 10 hours ahead of GMT (Greenwich Mean Time)

Health authorities take months to fix mould and fungus, while resident falls ill

Posted May 30, 2018 07:08:09

In December last year, Jane noticed a musty smell coming from her brother Andrew’s clothes.

Andrew has Down Syndrome and lives with five other residents at Sale, in Victoria’s east, in a supported group home for people with a disability.

Andrew is unable to talk, but upon further investigation, Jane (surname withheld) found fungus growing on the skirting board of Andrew’s bedroom wall.

The home is run by Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

“It looked like a toadstool of about 7.5cm long growing out of that wall,” she said.

A shower had been leaking from an adjacent room, and mould had grown throughout Andrew’s chest of drawers, wall and carpet.

“We immediately notified the person [working] on that night and they obviously were quite shocked to find that growth and the wet clothing,” she said.

The carpet was removed after about a week but the bare concrete floor was left uncovered for the next five months.

Mould contributes to illness

Andrew’s family also raised concerns that the department had not properly tested for mould spores, which can easily spread.

The department assured them that it had been taken care of and there was no risk to Andrew or anyone else in the home, but Andrew continued to get sick.

“Around the time that we found the mould he did have quite a nasty respiratory infection,” Jane said.

“[The GP] was definitive that having been exposed to mould would be a contributing factor to his illness.

“It seems as if he has been ill more frequently and we’ve also noticed that he’s had inflamed eyes and different symptoms that we haven’t recalled him having prior to this,” Jane said.

Five months after the issue was first raised the department has now moved Andrew to temporary accommodation while a contractor replaces the affected wall and the floor covering.

“Here’s five months delay and in that time there has almost certainly been negative impacts on my brother and possibly others in his house,” Jane said.

Department’s handling ‘deplorable’

After the initial lacklustre response from the department, Jane reached out to a mould expert.

Specialist microbiologist Cameron Jones gave Jane advice after seeing the photos of the mould in Andrew’s bedroom and described the situation as “extremely serious”.

“Based on the photographic evidence there’s been long-term water damage to walls and floors.

“This needed to be dealt with immediately,” Dr Jones said.

He advised that the home’s residents be evacuated until spore testing had been conducted to ensure the residence was safe, but the department did not follow his recommendation.

“All of these moulds produce an acute infection but they also produce mycotoxins, which have a whole range of toxic [effects] on the body.”

“We’re not just talking about a respiratory-type complaint or a sinus infection, it can be significantly more serious.”

“Anyone who is immuno-compromised has a weakened immune system and can’t fight off these infectious agents,” Dr Jones said.

The ABC understands several of the home’s residents have compromised immune systems linked to their disabilities.

“It appears that the problem has been ignored or actively covered up,” Dr Jones said.

Dr Jones said he believed the department had failed in its duty of care.

“Deplorable. That’s my one-word response.”

The department told the ABC that more recent testing was carried out in May but did not comment about what kind of testing had been conducted when the issue was first raised.

“A contractor inspected the bedroom wall and found some old water damage,” the department said.

“No evidence of mould was found.

“However, to allay the family’s concerns, mould tests were undertaken by a microbiologist.

“The results from that surface and air testing were typical of an indoor environment and are therefore unlikely to have any associated health risks.”

Dr Jones said the department’s findings did not add up.

“If further building works are being implemented it means that whatever testing was done most recently has in a sense failed the indoor air quality [test] and the recommendation must have been to strip out and remove the affected areas,” he said.

DHHS admits it should have acted faster

The department said it, “acknowledges that more could have been done sooner to address this matter”.

“We apologise to both the client and the family for this.”

Jane said her family never received an apology from the department and the first time she was aware of it was when she was shown the department’s statement to the ABC.

“I have not received an apology, which I find quite extraordinary,” she said.

“I think it shows a lack of respect for those who are really trying to do the best for their relatives.

“My brother and many others in the disability sector are unable to speak up for themselves so they rely on having advocates to act on their behalf.”

Trust broken

Frustrated by the initial lack of action by the department Jane wrote to the Minister for Housing and Disability, Martin Foley.

“He responded basically directing us back to the managers who had failed to act.

“That was very disappointing,” Jane said.

The department said “the health and safety of clients is the department’s priority”, but Jane said the department’s inadequate actions proved the statement to be “empty rhetoric”.

“We had a trust that the department would have acted far more promptly.

“We kept emailing saying ‘what was going to be done?’.

“Unfortunately there have been previous failures and each time something goes amiss.

“It is disillusioning that it took media contact for the action to take place,” Jane said.

Jane advised people advocating for a family member with a disability to not rely solely on the department when they need to rectify a matter.

“Seek external advocacy and you’ll probably get a better outcome much more promptly than what we’ve achieved in this case.”

Topics: health, disabilities, community-and-society, family, carers, government-and-politics, sale-3850, warrnambool-3280, swinburne-university-of-technology-3122

Despite caring for tetraplegic brother-in-law SA woman faces deportation

Posted May 18, 2018 04:43:23

From dawn until dusk, seven days a week, James Behrendorff requires constant care — the result of a 2011 workplace accident that left the electrician with C5 tetraplegia.

“It means basically from the neck down I’m numb,” Mr Behrendorff said.

“I’m lucky I have some movement in my hands, but I can’t feel half of them.”

Mr Behrendorff needs help to get dressed and to wash, and to be put into a lifter so he can be put in a chair.

“At night, I need my tea cut up. It’s a lot of high-maintenance help,” he said.

Mr Behrendorff gets that help from his wife Virginie and, since 2012, his sister-in-law Sophie Pfaerhoever.

“I wouldn’t be able to cope without my sister Sophie to take care of somebody who requires you … [to] cook, clean, wash, entertain,” Ms Behrendorff said.

“You are on the go 24/7. You can only take that for so long.”

The arrangement has worked well, but it could be about to change.

The family fears that, any day soon, Ms Pfaerhoever could be deported on the grounds that, in the eyes of the Federal Government and Department of Home Affairs, she is not a close relative and does not met visa requirements.

If that happens, Mr Behrendorff said he would inevitably be placed into a home, which is something he steadfastly objects to.

Mr Behrendorff and his wife are desperately seeking a way to allow Sophie to stay in Australia and continue providing care.

‘Not easy, but it is my family’

Caring for Mr Behrendorff can’t be done by one person alone.

“Even with the lifter it takes two people to get James into bed,” Virginie Behrendorff said.

It’s not a simple life, but it’s the one Sophie Pfaerhoever has chosen for herself, moving from France to be with her sister and her brother-in-law.

“I know it is not easy, but it is my family,” Ms Pfaerhoever said. “When your family have problems you are there.”

All of this care is being given at home on Adelaide’s outskirts.

The sisters don’t qualify for carer benefits, and the family lives on Mr Behrendorff’s WorkCover payment.

Migration consultant, Mark Glazbrook, said the in-home care given to Mr Behrendorff has saved taxpayers a packet.

“The cost of institutional care for James would be in the vicinity of $200,000 a year,” Mr Glazbrook said.

“Sophie’s been here for six years so she has saved the taxpayer at least $1.2 million. In that sense, it is in Australia’s national interest to keep her here.”

But Ms Pfaerhoever’s application for a carer visa was refused because the requirements stipulate the person must be a close relative.

In this case, Ms Pfaerhoever would have to be Mr Behrendorff’s sister, half-sister or step-sister to qualify — sisters-in-law are out.

“I think it is rubbish,” Virginie Behrendorff said.

“Honestly I have been married to James nearly 20 years, he knows Sophie very well. She is part of this family unit.”

‘Strip me of my dignity’

Mr Behrendorff said immigration officials have put rules above his care and personal dignity.

“I’ve been through the hospital system, and your dignity is gone. You have one person wash you one day, another person washes you the next day,” he said.

“It gets to a point where you do want some dignity back … and that’s what Sophie helps give me.

“It will strip me of my dignity. This is all about their small rules and nothing about my care.”

The family took the decision to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) but it said, effectively, its hands were also tied by the legal requirements making in-laws ineligible for a carer visa.

But the AAT offered one last hope, saying “there are compassionate circumstances in this case … the tribunal considers this case should be referred to the department to be brought to the minister’s attention”.

It opened the possibility of a ministerial intervention, and Mark Glazbrook thought the AAT’s ruling was significant.

“It’s something that doesn’t happen ordinarily, only in very limited, special circumstances, such as in this matter. We thought a successful outcome would have been achieved,” he said.

But last Friday, Mr Glazbrook found out he was wrong.

The department sent him an email saying it had made its own determination, without reference to the minister:

“Ms Pfaerhoever’s request was assessed against the minister’s guidelines and was found not to present the type of unique and exceptional circumstances that may be referred to the minister, and was therefore finalised by the department without referral.”

Mr Glazbrook said the department is not required to give reasons.

“We don’t know if the full case was investigated,” he said.

“Unfortunately now we are in a situation where it may only be a matter of days or weeks before Sophie is deported.”

The ABC asked Assistant Minister Alex Hawke for his view.

In a statement, the Department of Home Affairs said it “does not comment on individual cases”.

“People whose requests for intervention have been unsuccessful and who do not have other matters before the department are expected to depart Australia,” it said.

The clock is now ticking for Ms Pfaerhoever, but it also ticks for her sister and brother-in-law.

“If Sophie goes, I will have to go into a nursing home eventually,” Mr Behrendorff said.

“I honestly wouldn’t want to be around. That’s not a life.”

Topics: carers, community-and-society, immigration, disabilities, health, adelaide-5000, sa, australia

‘There’s a lot of isolation’: Young carers share challenges of early transition into adulthood

Updated May 17, 2018 06:39:02

Megan May shoulders more weight than many people her age.

The 19-year-old has cared for her sibling Simon, who has autism, since she was in primary school.

Both of her parents fight their own health issues, so Megan works only casually at a beauty spa and stays home to look after Simon four days a week — often spending hours trying to get him out of bed.

Holding the family together has meant sacrificing a social life and everything else about typical teenage life.

That has taken a toll.

Ms May said it played a part in her history of anxiety, depression and an eating disorder.

“A lot of that stemmed from a lack of self-worth because a lot of my attention was going into other people and I never had time to sit down with myself and say ‘hey I’m actually doing really well’,” she said.

“There’s also a lot of isolation you get when you’re not like your peers.”

The ACT’s peak carers body has recently boosted mental health support, hiring its first counsellor dedicated to young adults.

Ms May welcomes the initiative, saying the transition from childhood to adulthood has been tough.

“You’re just a child with a drinking licence and you’re not sure how to [act like an] adult,” she said.

“You get a lot of respite care and mentoring as a child and a lot of agencies lose that as you get older.

“Some cut-off or change support at 18, others at 24, and a lot of the time it’s not made clear to the carer or family.”

Carers are a high-risk group for mental illness.

But those aged between 15 and 24 are also less likely to have jobs than others their age, with the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reporting a 57 per cent unemployment rate in 2017.

Only 40 per cent of carers aged 19-24 attend university or TAFE, and they are much more likely to stay on welfare payments than their non-caring peers.

That is why Carers ACT is also offering more financial support.

It is looking to extend its scholarship program, funded by SHAW Building Group.

Carers ACT’s Lisa Kelly has already seen it change the lives of many young carers.

“There’s this look in their eyes that that dream they thought they could never achieve might actually come true,” Ms Kelly said.

It helped one young man restart a trade he was forced to give up when his mother died, while he looked after his father with heart problems.

But Carers ACT only found out about that man’s struggles through the media before offering the scholarship.

Ms Kelly believes many more people would not realise they qualify for the help of up to $5,000 towards tertiary education or apprenticeships.

“We are looking at making sure that any young carer who requires assistance to reach their goals in their life around education and their career is able to get that support.”

Laura Piscopo, 19, cares for her mother with a chronic illness. She says the SHAW scholarship has been lifechanging, allowing her to follow her dreams of working in the disability sector.

“It’s been fantastic because I’ve always wanted to go to university,” she said.

‘My mum is a big inspiration’

Chantelle Pellegrini has been a key voice in driving change in the recognition of young carers.

The 19-year-old has cared for her mother, who suffers from chronic pain, since she was a young child.

As a teenager she also cared for her father who died of a brain tumour in 2014.

“It all happened when I went into high-school, so caring for mum and dad and trying to keep up good grades, I really struggled mentally,” she said.

“It was extremely difficult. I remember always being confused as to why this all happened to me.”

But Ms Pellegrini pushed through the adversity and has started studying part-time this year — all while working part-time, running the household and looking after her mother.

“It’s tough, but my mum is a big inspiration to me,” Ms Pellegrini said while holding back tears.

“When I was young, people at school would say athletes and celebrities are their role models, but mine has always been Mum.”

“Since getting my job I’ve started saving money to give back to her so she has less pressure, because as a child she gave me everything and I want her to know it’s OK and I can help out now.”

Ms Pellegrini sat on the Carers Voice Panel which helped form a 10-year strategy to better support Canberra’s carers — a partnership between the ACT Government, Carers ACT and democracyCo.

She said Carers ACT’s counselling and scholarships support was a great first step, but there was more to be done.

One initiative she supported was a proposal from Ms May — the youth representative on the strategy’s taskforce — for a mentoring program where older carers help younger ones.

She also wants to see agencies provide more social activities for young adults to help with her feelings of isolation, saying most offer more for children.

“A lot of us give up — it gets too tough,” she said.

“I just hope [the new strategy] helps reduce that, that it helps people look forward in life and achieve great things knowing that their situation doesn’t have to stop them.”

Young carers are ‘heroes of hope’

The strategy is on track to being rolling out in the coming months.

Ms Kelly said a big part of the action plan will relate to improving community awareness of carers and just how much they give.

“But it can be as simple as offering to cook dinner if you’re a neighbour,” she said.

“Carers are heroes because they remind us that there are people that give love and compassion so effortlessly without asking for anything in return.”

“They are heroes of hope. And they are heroes that show love and compassion still exist in the world — and sometimes we forget that.”

Topics: carers, community-and-society, disabilities, health, youth, canberra-2600, act, australia

First posted May 17, 2018 06:28:08