On 31 October, the interim report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety confirmed the need for significant structural, financial and workforce reform.
Three urgent recommended actions were to reduce the Home Care Package waitlist, minimise chemical restraint, and find alternative options for younger people with a disability in aged care. I add that critical, extra funding is needed to sustain residential aged care services, improve staff education and training, and increase staff hours.
The Federal Government has responded, with a mid-year release of an additional 10,000 home care packages, primarily at Level 3 and 4. We applaud this, yet I am very uncomfortable with such a minimal response to a great need for so many older individuals. The vast majority of the 120,000 individuals on the wait list need high care packages, and must wait 12 to 18 months to receive this level of care.
Other important announcements aim to increase the frequency of residential medication reviews and simplify assessment processes for aged care.
It is disappointing there were no additional resources to address the well-defined, critical needs in residential care services, where significant numbers of providers are in financial deficit, at a time when the community expectations, service providers and advocates want to increase staffing levels. Appropriate funding is fundamental to sustainability. Unfortunately, there seems to be a public misperception that aged care is resourced and staffed like a hospital. This is not the case – they are significantly different. I hope another funding announcement is yet to come!
The Commission continues to review serious issues affecting the aged care sector, urging for more dignity and respect for older Australians and the workers and carers. Like many others in service provision, I have advocated for reform for years. But it must be meaningful reform, with real benefits for older people, that attracts workers, achieves the reform outcomes and is cost effective. Reform is risky if it adds bureaucratic paperwork that takes staff away from working directly with people whose health needs are increasingly complex.
None of this can wait until after the Commission’s final report in November 2020.
There have been failings in the sector, in services, and this is not acceptable. If, for whatever reason, something is not right, I encourage you to raise this with the staff and relevant management. If you do not have a satisfactory response, contact me, or speak with the Aged Rights Advocacy Service on 1800 700 600 or the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission on 1800 951 822.
I affirm the good work, care and support provided every day by staff. Australians deserve world class aged care that is respectful of older people and of the workforce that supports them.
Opinion piece by Richard Hearn
Former CEO Resthaven Incorporated