Finding our way through the system set up for the care of elderly Australians is proving to be more difficult than I expected it to be. Mum and dad have both been assessed and have qualified for what is called a Home Care Package. Dad has qualified for low care and mum for the highest level of care. The aim of this is to keep elderly people living safely at home for as long as possible and, I presume, to lighten the load on the residential aged care sector.

Now that they have been assessed and deemed eligible, I thought it was just a matter of contacting some of the registered care providers on the list that that was provided in the letter that notified them of the result of the assessment, and going on a visit, then settling into a new way of managing with a range of people coming to mum and dad to assist them with their daily needs and to give dad some relief from his role as caregiver.

But no: Today I was told that they are now in a queue and they will have to wait until a home care package is offered to them. I was advised to grab it if and when it happened as “they are like hens’ teeth.”

How long will it take? Well, the longest wait, I was told, was seven years and they were still waiting, and the fastest was six weeks. So it looks like there is some prioritizing that takes place once you get into the queue.

In a class I teach, we discuss the queue; its history, its form and how people feel when they are in one. For most, one minute in a queue feels like ten. Frustration levels rise and people get angry and impatient. Some queues are cool to be in – the line for a cool club or a fashionable eating spot for example. But for most the queue is not a good place to be in. Service providers should work towards managing the queue. They can do this by providing something for people to do while they wait or by balancing the service they offer with the people it seeks to assist: Put simply to balance needs with availability.

We can, while we wait, access a thing called “Take a Break”. This is four hours of respite a week, not on public holidays or weekends and only until 8.00 pm. It is not means tested and costs $40 per week. We can also do this privately through the agency. The cost then is $40 something dollars an hour up until 8.00 pm and $50 something after but at least we could get care after 8.00 pm and on weekends and public holidays if needed.For both of these options  a caregiver (with minimum Cert III Qualifications) will come to the house and mind mum while dad takes a break. The service they need, to keep them safe in their home, are not part of this.

But I question, why wouldn’t I just do this privately, place an ad seeking a suitably qualified person to come to the house and mind mum while dad takes a break? Rates for this sort of service on Airtasker are $25.00 per hour. I could, for just a bit more than the weekly price the government will charge, get a person with the qualifications and personality that suits us to come when we need it and have some control over the whole process.

I am trying hard to make sense of an incomprehensible system. I can’t do it. It is simply too complex and too crazy. I have all my faculties and still I struggle. Information is coming at me from all directions. None of it matches and none of it makes sense. I make sense of something then someone else gives me conflicting information that unravels what I previously understood. Yesterday I read a form that said, “If you don’t have a copy of this form, you can get it from …” It is a system where the blind lead the blind and the demented attempt to explain a process to the demented.

Mum has no idea of what we are doing on her behalf. When mum and dad argue, mum often threatens to walk to the river and throw herself in. Dad’s standard response is, “don’t be stupid, you wouldn’t even know how to find the river.”  Dad, half joking, suggested it may not be a bad option after all. I wonder how many elderly Australians just give up, eat toast, and rely on whatever help they can get from family and friends.