Care worker walks 6km to support palliative client: Royal Commission

Marlene walks 6km, Marlene, car, HammondCare At HomeThe HammondCare At Home community care worker behind a remarkable story featured in the final submission to the Aged Care Royal Commission*, explained that walking 6km to care for a dying client “is just what we do”. 

Marlene Field, who turns 60 this month, said she didn’t do it for a “pat on the back” but because, “this lady was dying and we put the client first; I’ve always put the client first and we have to support a good death. You should treat people like they belong to you."

It was Friday, March 6, just as the coronavirus pandemic was escalating and Marlene was due to begin holidays the next day. A very unwell elderly client needed an evening care visit and, because she was familiar to the client and family from previous visits, her manager asked if she could drop by one more time before she went on leave.

“Patricia [name changed] was now palliative and so we had started care visits for her in the evening as well, so I said ‘that’s fine, I have availability, I’m happy to go’.

“I’d started work at 7.30am and in the afternoon I picked up from Mater Hospital a gentleman who had not been very well and returned him home to Cooranbong,” Marlene said. “As I drove back towards Toronto, near to where Patricia lives, the engine light came on and the temperature went up and I realised I needed to pull over. I keep my car well serviced so I couldn’t believe it!

“It was about 5.50pm but I thought, ‘It’s not that far away’, so I rang Scheduling and asked them to contact Patricia’s son and let him know that I was on my way but I was on foot. I would worry about my car later.

“I thought to myself, ‘it’s just around the corner and over that hill’ but as I got walking – and it was a hot day – I realised it may have been further than I imagined!

“Along the way, I saw a woman walking two beagles and as I drew near, one of them escaped its harness and was heading towards the busy road, so I grabbed the beagle and returned it as well. I thought, ‘I was meant to breakdown to save that beagle!’”

Marlene walks 6km, Marlene, car, HammondCare At HomeMarlene arrived by about 6.30pm and completed her care visit with Patricia. Her son was deeply moved that Marlene had walked all the way to care for his mum and there were some tears.

“I told him I didn’t mean to upset him, that it was fine, it’s what we do. Look, I’m not really someone to ask for a lot of help. It never occurred to me to ring Scheduling and ask them to send someone else.

“I’ve got two legs and I knew it was important that it was someone the family knew.”

When Marlene finished her visit at 7.30pm she tried to call her two sons to see if she could get a lift home. She couldn’t reach them and so decided to walk back to her car and call the NRMA. As it was getting dark, she called her manager Suzy and told her she would need to stay on the phone with her to make sure she got to the car safely, which she did.

Marlene said she felt she had been careful in each of her decisions and hadn’t given her actions a second thought. She got home by about 10.30pm.

Marlene went on leave to Queensland a few days later after a new thermostat was fitted to her car and during that week, Patricia died. Marlene's effort in ‘going the extra mile’ had truly been a contribution to Patricia’s last days.

Marlene said she had been surprised there had been publicity about her story, including through the Aged Care Royal Commission. And when told that it was recounted that she had walked seven or eight kms, and in one account nine kms, she said she felt a bit embarrassed as “it was only six!”.

*Section 622, page 191 In this section of the submission, Counsel Assisting is addressing the impact of COVID-19 on aged care and its workforce. Across paragraphs 621 and 622 they say: 621 While the COVID-19 outbreak has revealed the structural weaknesses in the aged care workforce, it has also thrown up a number of inspirational examples of the dedication of aged care workers. We will briefly mention two. 622. During Sydney Hearing 2, Dr Stephen Judd, the former Chief Executive Officer of the HammondCare, described a home care staff worker whose car broke down in suburban Sydney. She was attending to a palliative client and knew the roster was very tight, so she walked the seven or eight kilometres to care for that client. 584 584 Transcript, Sydney Hearing 2, Stephen Judd, 11 August 2020, T8541.17-23.