ALMA was told by her daughter it would be a “nice” place.
But when Alma entered the aged-care facility, there was an overpowering stench of urine combined with toilet cleaner.
Alma’s room was tiny with no outlook, the curtains closed. It felt degrading.
She was collected and taken to a common lounge room where she sat all day with nothing to do, staring out at the birds, and watching the other residents with their mouths hanging open.
Many residents with dementia would not think to ask to be let out into the garden.
The garden was in the shade anyway. Alma looked defeated.
This is a grim account from inside one residential aged-care facility.
And yet the ageing experience and the troubles it brings rarely make the media headlines.
Even though most of the 2800 facilities – they used to be called nursing homes – across Australia may be clean and well run, industry projections suggest choice and quality are on the slide.
Unless there is a big injection of government funding, the number of places available will be outstripped by demand as our ageing population grows, seriously reducing the choice of nursing homes as well as the safety, comfort and quality of life which we expect.
The figures are compelling.
More than 169,000 elderly people are in residential aged care.
About three-quarters (77 per cent) were aged 80 and over, and 57 per cent were aged 85 and over.
Over the next 10 years, the number of residents is projected to reach more than 250,000 and the highest area of growth will be among residents aged 95 or over.
One of the key health-care challenges is dementia, which is the major reason that people seek admittance to residential aged care.
It is estimated about half of aged-care residents suffer from dementia and the number of people who develop the condition will increase from 220,000 currently, to 730,000 by 2050.
As a result, the high-care proportion of residential aged care is going to need to increase dramatically to keep up with demand, requiring a skilled health workforce incorporating medical, nursing and allied health professionals, carers and assistants.
St Vincent’s Care Services is one of the largest aged-care providers committed to building safe, home-like residences with 24-hour care.
It has a new state-of-the-art dementia-care residence opening in Southport in August, adding to its other six locations across south-east Queensland.
However, the size of the dementia problem requires a massive government action to provide for the future and, so far, the Federal Election has seen only a flicker of interest from politicians.
There were no significant dementia policy announcements in the recent 2016 budget.
What’s more, unveiled in the budget were changes to the funding formula for aged-care providers – amounting to a cut of $1.2 billion.
The Government said the changes to the funding formula were in response to “continued higher-than-expected growth” in aged-care costs.
The Aged Care Guild, the peak body representing the major aged-care providers, is critical of the Government’ s cut which is designed to curb skyrocketing costs for nursing home residents with complex needs.
Under changes revealed in the budget, the formula for deciding funding levels for patients with complex care needs will be changed, and the rate of indexation of payments for these patients will be halved.
In practice, this will reduce the availability of physiotherapy for residents in pain, and lower staffing levels which will increase waiting time for personal attention and mean less attention to residents who demonstrate confronting behaviour.
Besides the cuts for residents needing complex care, the guild’s chief executive officer Cameron O’Reilly said this year’s budget allocation would do little more than cover new places coming on-line.
“Our members are genuinely concerned the tightening in available care funding will impact their capacity to secure capital to invest in quality care and new beds for future residents,” he said.
Mr O’Reilly said in this environment, members thought it was unlikely the industry would meet the projected demand for 76,000 new beds that the Aged Care Financing Authority said were needed by 2023-24.
“Governments can adjust the budget each year but the reality is they can neither reverse the need for the provision of more complex healthcare nor the increasing demand for residential care places,” he said.
“That is why the latest $1.2 billion savings in the Federal Budget need to be properly reviewed and reconsidered by whichever side of politics is successful at the July election.”
Shadow Minister for Ageing Shayne Neumann said Labor would commit to a major review of the way aged-care services were provided and paid for, but ruled out reversing the $1.2 billion cut.
Council on the Ageing Australia chief executive Ian Yates said both major parties needed to address the shortfall in residential places and home care services.
“Too often in elections older Australians don’t get the priority that they should,” Mr Yates said.
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Register your interest at http://olderaustraliansvote.org.au
By Mark Bowling