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Catholic health provider says $537 million boost to aged care a modest first step

Elderly person in care
Care boost: The federal government will give $537 million to the aged care sector following a shocking report from the Royal Commission.

AN extra 10,000 home care packages will start being delivered from this month  as the Federal Government attempts to reduce huge waiting lists for the elderly seeking care and address a scandal-prone aged care sector.

Catholic Health Australia has welcomed a government injection of $537 million to increase home care places, get younger people out of residential care more quickly and reduce the use of chemical restraints in aged care homes – all issues highlighted in a shocking royal commission interim report that called for a fundamental overhaul of the aged care system.

However, with almost 120,000 Australians on the waiting lists for home care packages it’s a modest first step, according to the CHA – the largest non-government provider of health, community and aged care services.

“While half a billion dollars is a significant amount of money,  it’s been estimated we need $5.5 billion alone just to address the full home came package waiting list and the remuneration gap for the underpaid aged care workforce,” CHA chief executive officer Pat Garcia said.

“This announcement, whilst welcome and needed, will still leave 110,000 Australians waiting for a home care package. 

“These people need specialist care and support and their loved ones need relief. Just imagine having to look after your husband or wife with dementia on your own week after week.”

The royal commission’s interim report revealed systemic failings, described the nation’s current aged care as ‘cruel and harmful”, with systemic failings, and many elderly Australians neglected and forced to live in “unkind and uncaring” conditions.

Labor described the government’s funding boost as merely a drop in the ocean of need.

“How quickly will a 95-year-old woman with a terminal illness who has been waiting for her Level 4 package get that package?” opposition spokeswoman on ageing Julie Collins said.

Almost $500 million will be spent on the additional high level home care packages, with a further $10 million on dementia training, $25.5 million on improving medication management programs to reduce the use of chemical restraints and nearly $5 million on reducing the number of younger people in aged care facilities.

“We fully support the objective that no younger person should be entering residential aged care and by 2025 no younger person should be living in residential aged care, except for those that choose to stay on,” Mr Garcia said:  

“Aged care is just not an appropriate place for any young person to live.”

The use of anti-psychotic medications – or chemical restraints – for dementia patients will be more strictly policed from the start of next year, including maximum time periods for how long they can be used without a doctor’s re-approval

While the Federal Government’s new measures do not go to the financial viability of residential aged-care homes, the Government is this week starting a trial of a new remuneration method based on the care needs of individuals.

Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck described the existing funding model, set in 2008, as no longer fit for purpose.

Aged-care providers said it was critical this aspect not be neglected, saying the sector urgently needed a $1.3 billion funding injection.

“The support for additional (home care) packages is a step in the right direction but there appears to have been no movement at all on the urgent risks facing residential care,” Leading Age Services Australia chief executive Sean Rooney said.

The organisation says there are 197 providers in financial distress.

The union for aged-care workers said chronic underfunding in the sector couldn’t be fixed up with a band aid.

“Australia cannot wait for the final recommendations of the royal commission … for the government to act comprehensively on the crisis in this industry – particularly those older Australians dying on home care waiting lists or not receiving the care they deserve in residential facilities because of understaffing,” United Workers Union official Carolyn Smith said.

The Aged Care Royal Commission’s final report is due in November 2020.

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