Over the past two years, the pandemic has highlighted the ever-widening cracks in the aged care sector.

Even now, aged care homes average 11 COVID-19 related deaths per day.

Newly elected Labor minister Mark Butler is faced with the task of fixing the plethora of problems in the sector, but an increasing number of families are choosing to keep their elderly parents at home, or even withdraw them from aged-care institutions.

Maria Sampey is one such example.

A former mayor and councillor on the Greater Dandenong Council, Sampey decided to bring her mother, Vittoria Primerano, home in order to care for her personally.

“Since 2011, my mother – who suffers from senile dementia – has been in nine nursing homes,” Sampey says.

“After experiencing several episodes of neglect and realising the extent of the crisis, I decided to bring my mother home.

“I wanted her to be able to live out the rest of her life with dignity, in an environment where she felt loved.”

Primerano has had life of unspeakable suffering throughout which she has demonstrated remarkable resilience.

She migrated from the Calabrian town of Serrata in 1956 with her two children, Maria and Francesco, with the aim of meeting her husband, who had travelled to Australia a few years earlier.

“My father, Salvatore Antonio Novembre, left my mother and returned to Italy,” Sampey continues.

“He made her sign a document that put the house in his name.

“I lost my son in 2001 to a brain tumour; he was only 19 years old at the time.

“It was then I decided to forgive my father; my grief had been superseded.”

Primerano immediately took a job at a local textile factory, and Sampey herself began contributing to the household from a very young age, working as a secretary in a law firm.

After several years of struggling, the pair have finally found peace at their home in Keysborough.

Over 11 years ago, Primerano was transferred to her first aged care home, as her dementia had worsened.

When she turned 99 years old last year, Sampey decided to bring her home.

“I went to pick my mother up in September 2021,” she says.

“I really thought she would only live for another month or so.

“Now, she eats without any problems.

“Even if she doesn’t recognise us and doesn’t walk anymore, she is still with us.”

On May 15, Primerano celebrated her 100th birthday, surrounded by her family.

“My mayoral portfolio was focused on caring for the elderly and making sure citizens received the services they had requested,” Sampey says.

“They need buses to take them to social clubs, access to community activities and recreational travel.

“I made sure those things happened, even during the lockdowns, so that no one was alienated in their own home.

“My mother taught me compassion and showed me human frailty up close.

“Even if she no longer recognises me and doesn’t know I am her daughter, she will always be my mother.”