The number of Australians entering aged care or needing to access aged services is expected to increase exponentially over the next two decades.
The ABC’s You Ask We Answer team has been flooded by concerns about the sector, with many of you wondering if the Federal Government has the adequate building blocks in place to support the industry moving forward.
Victorian woman Maria Berry believes her mother was forced into residential aged care before she was ready.
The former nurse first noticed issues within the industry when her mother fell ill and was admitted to hospital.
“She had been out of bed and was ready for breakfast and needed to go to the toilet. Although she was very frail, she had all of her cognitive capacity, but the nurse said, ‘No, I don’t have the time to take you to the toilet’ and took the buzzer from Mum,” Ms Berry said.
“Mum got up to try and walk and fell and fractured her hip, but I wasn’t notified until later in the afternoon.
“I couldn’t believe how she was treated, it was such a shock to me, but it made me alert to the fact that maybe others are going through the same thing.”
Ms Berry said her family was pressured into transferring her mother to a facility more than an hour away from home — where she died three weeks after admission.
After the experience with her mother, and a case of elder abuse towards her father within her own family, Ms Berry set off on a journey to highlight issues within the industry, and what she has called a backward, ageist attitude held by many towards the elderly.
Wodonga’s Maria Berry has spent her time tirelessly campaigning for the elderly after witnessing the treatment of her mother and father. (Supplied: Maria Berry)
As someone who had also worked in the industry, she said there were significant issues around staff support, funding and training.
She also said it was almost impossible to navigate home care packages and believed there was not enough funding for local organisations facing pressures to support those on a waitlist.
“I know some amazing and beautiful people who work in aged care, but unfortunately there are some not so good people out there and this is what needs to be brought to a head,” Ms Berry said.
“But the issue is that staff are under pressure, they’re not receiving the support with adequate training.
“People are going into residential care with more complex, chronic conditions, which a six or eight-week program doesn’t provide the support or skills to staff to be able to know or manage these kinds of issues.
“There’s staffing shortages, funding [shortages] and a lack of accountability for people who do the wrong thing.”
How are the major parties addressing aged care in Australia?
Aged care is an industry that is poised to grow substantially, with advocates estimating an extra $3 billion will be needed to cover support costs over the next two years.
According to a Deloitte Access Economics report, the number of Australians aged 65 years and over will double over the next 40 years, increasing from around 3.6 million in 2014-15, to 8.9 million in 2054-55.
It is anticipated that expectations around the sector will also change, due to the prevalence of dementia and mobility issues.
Figures from the ABS show about 187,300 people were living in residential aged care in 2015 alone.
“What are the aged care policies of Labor and Liberal. What are the points of difference?“ – Julian W Bidstrup, Central Victoria.
In September last year, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a Royal Commission into aged care, sparked by a trend of non-compliance and failures in the sector.
Up to now, the Coalition had promised $34 million to establish an Aged Care Workforce Research Centre, with an extra $10 million to be put towards a Seniors Connected Program to combat loneliness — it also has a plan to create 475,000 additional jobs for the industry by 2025.
Meanwhile, Labor revealed its own plan for aged care this week, pledging to create up to 20,000 training places for aged care workers, increase staffing at residential aged care facilities, and provide more incentives for GPs to perform home visits and provide services at facilities.
Despite promises from both sides, Leading Aged Services CEO Sean Rooney said both major parties were not addressing a funding emergency which was causing almost half of facilities to “operate at a loss”.
“Although there is an intent to deal with some of the bigger issues in the system, both parties have been light on detail,” Mr Rooney said.
“I think one of the frustrations we’ve had as a sector on behalf of providers and the people they support, is that neither of the major political parties have made a key commitment to resolving some of the near-term challenges in the system.”
Desperate need for change
Last year, the ABC’s Four Corner’s program investigated issues within Australia’s aged care industry, returning with damning stories of elder abuse and neglect, which coincided with a Royal Commission.
While Mr Rooney said negative stories did not reflect an industry-wide epidemic, he believed a lack of funding could lead to further similar cases within the industry in the future.
“I would suggest that we’ve seen some cases that are specific to individuals and their character, but there are also systemic pressures where policy, regulation and funding has not kept pace with the changing needs of the industry,” Mr Rooney said.
Sean Rooney says neither of the major political parties have made a key commitment to resolving near-term challenges. (Supplied: Leading Aged Services Australia)
“That’s manifested in some of the issues we’re seeing in the media and in the Royal Commission.”
Mr Rooney said policy, regulatory and funding systems had not kept pace with the changing needs and expectations of the growing number of older Australians.
He said there were now stories emerging of vulnerable older people being forced to wait up to 24 months to access home care packages.
“Whilst the Royal Commission gets on with its important work in order to focus on ensuring we have a future fit aged care system, there are some near-term things that need to be changed, and that’s around funding for residential aged care, reducing the home care wait list, and investing in our work force,” Mr Rooney said.
“There’s an urgent need to make the system better, and for whoever is the next government, they will have to deal with the issues.”
Local providers already facing pressure
The CEO of a Shepparton residential care organisation said facilities across Victoria were beginning to face pressure after a continued lack of funding.
Shepparton Villages’ Kerri Rivett said the current funding model would not live up to what was needed to create a sustainable, robust system.
At current rates, about 45 per cent of providers were operating at a financial loss, which increased to 66 per cent in regional and remote areas.
“This means we can’t build more buildings and we can’t invest in aged care into the future,” Ms Rivett said.
“It affects all aspects of the health system you have — if you don’t invest in aged care, you have more people coming into your emergency department, you have more people occupying beds in hospitals when they could instead be looked after in their own home or in a residential care facility.”
Ms Rivett said the forecast pressure on the industry over the next two decades would lead to more home and residential care being required — a service that she said was already being ignored.
“At the moment there’s 130,000 people on the waitlist, so we actually need more home care so people can live at home for longer before they go into residential care,” Ms Rivett said.
“We’re seeing vulnerable people living at home and people not being able to access care.
“This government hasn’t focused on aged care in this election campaign which is really scary when you think about the needs of the aged into the future.”
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