An elderly woman was unable to eat properly for two years while she waited for dentures and had to raid her funeral savings to pay for dental care, the aged care royal commission has heard.

The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety also heard on Wednesday how 91-year Beryl Hawkins became so lonely and depressed while waiting for her full level of home care that she “didn’t want to be here”.

The commission this week resumed hearings into how mental health, oral health and allied health care can be improved for people accessing aged care services.

It’s the first time the commission has sat since Covid-19 forced hearings to be suspended late in March.

Ms Hawkins, who has been living on her own in a Sydney public housing unit for 14 years, now receives assistance from three carers which she says has improved her life.

To be quite honest, I – when I didn’t see anybody and I was lonely, I didn’t want to be here … all we wait for when we’re older is to die, if there’s nothing in our lives.  And that’s how I felt before I got my carers.

Beryl Hawkins

But she said she had to wait two years for that despite being assessed three times, and initially had to make do with just two hours of home support a week despite needing it to get out of the house.

She said she suffered mental health issues including depression and loneliness and her GP referred her to a psychologist.

“Before my package I couldn’t get any help at all except for two hours a week,” she said. “I found that I was sitting here for hours not being able to talk to anybody, no phone calls”.

“To be quite honest, I – when I didn’t see anybody and I was lonely, I didn’t want to be here … all we wait for when we’re older is to die, if there’s nothing in our lives.  And that’s how I felt before I got my carers.

“And there’s a lot of people like that.”

Two year wait for dentures

Ms Hawkins said she also had problems accessing dental care when she needed dentures.

She was told there was two year waiting list and she was given a $2000 voucher which was only valid for one of four public dental hospitals in the area.

Mr Hawkins said she couldn’t eat properly for two years and ended up having to use her funeral money to pay the full cost of the dentures, which weren’t covered by her package.

“When I asked if I could get them from my package, I was told ‘we don’t do teeth’,” she said.

“Not having teeth and not being able to eat, it means an awful lot to you. You lose your appetite and you don’t eat as you should eat.”

She said her experience wasn’t isolated and she knew of a man who lived off biscuits dipped in tea for three years while he waited for for his dentures.

Ms Hawkins also said she couldn’t get allied health while waiting for her package including her physiotherapist and podiatrist.

She said her family loved her but work and family commitments meant they couldn’t meet all her needs, and she dreads for her future when she is too frail to live independently.

Snapshops provided to the Royal Commission by Ms Hawkins

“What will happen when I get really old and completely unable to look after myself? It really scares me.

“I just want to stay in my own home”, she said.

“I don’t want to go anywhere else”.

She said no one should have to wait two years for the care.

“I was only on a level two. I had my carers coming twice a week for a walk for a little while, but I needed more than that. I just feel that I waited two years for the package and that’s far too long.”

Her 96-year-old neighbour got a package when she died, she said.

“It just seems that elderly people are having to suffer  when they are not getting the help that was promised by the government.”

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