But a leading aged care expert is calling out the government, saying he’d like to see evidence of their optimistic claims, which are based on data, he says, “I just don’t believe.”
The Minister for Aged Care Services, Richard Colbeck, told a Senate Select committee yesterday that he “didn’t accept that the [aged care] system is in complete crisis”.
“My view, and the data supports that, is that the sector is performing and has performed exceptionally well in the work that it’s doing.”
So comfortable is Minister Colbeck about the situation in aged care, he declined to attend earlier sessions of the hearing in order to go to the cricket.
Yet despite the Minister’s confidence, the very same day a report by the Australian Aged Care Collaboration (AACC) – a group of six aged care peak bodies who represent 70% of the nation’s aged care services – painted a vastly different picture.
The situation in aged care is “grim”, the report states.
Providers are reporting that on average a quarter of their shifts are going unfilled, or about 140,000 shifts per week.
The government’s surge workforce contribution of about 1,200 shifts per week is “clearly insufficient”.
Providers are also having difficulty accessing PPE and RATs.
“Aged care providers … are doing all they can to maintain care and support for their residents and clients while keeping them safe from infection in the face of severe staff shortages and a lack of crucial resources,” the AACC says.
Nearly 600 residents have died in this phase of the pandemic
The Omicron surge has placed enormous strain on the sector, which was already under immense pressure. Though the AACC says a lack of data about the situation is making the situation more difficult, the data that is available tells a worrying story.
There are currently nearly 24,000 COVID-19 cases associated with aged care, including nearly 10,000 residents and 15,000 staff.
More than half of the nation’s aged care homes – over 1,200 – are currently experiencing an outbreak.
Since November last year, when Omicron first hit, 566 aged care residents have died – more than twice the number during the entirety of 2021.
Against this backdrop, the daily need to maintain infection control measures while continuing to provide essential services and manage the effects of isolation on residents is a major challenge, the AACC states.
Clearly the situation is very serious.
The government and industry are also adopting different views of the booster rollout.
Minister Hunt said the government expects the booster rollout to be completed in aged care this week and that 99% of aged care homes have received booster visits. He said 99% of aged care staff are vaccinated, one of the highest rates in the world.
The only remaining facilities are those that have had outbreaks or issues with their staff or the vaccination provider staff, who because of outbreaks or being close contacts have not been able to be there, Minister Hunt said.
But the AACC said the level of booster coverage isn’t known because it relies on reporting from providers who are operating under severe workforce shortages.
‘I just don’t believe it’
Another point of contention is Minister Hunt’s claim made earlier in the week that 60% of aged care residents who have died were receiving palliative care, which seemed to play down the seriousness of deaths in aged care.
This morning on ABC Radio, Professor Joseph Ibrahim, Head of Health Law and Ageing Research at Monash University, said that number “doesn’t make sense” and called on Minister Hunt to substantiate the claim.
“The minister does a really good job of sounding positive when he’s got a lot of things to cover up,” Professor Ibrahim said.
“I just don’t believe the numbers he’s giving us,” he said.
Professor Ibrahim also weighed into the debate about booster levels in aged care.
All Professor Ibrahim’s patients want the booster “because it gives them a greater amount of freedom and safety”.
“The question about 99% of homes being visited is all well and good, but the question is did they visit them prepared? Did they spend enough time there? Did they tell the residents they were coming? Had they briefed them?”
Politicians are using data for the purpose of “obfuscating” the truth, he said.
“Nothing has really improved” in aged care since the royal commission, Professor Ibrahim noted.
“We know that one in three aged care residents get sub-optimal care … the main issue is the lack of staff and the staff that are there don’t have the training they need for the complexity we have.”
The aged care staff bonus payments are “nothing of benefit” for aged care workers who have been “underpaid and overworked for over 20 years”.
“$400 isn’t going to cut it,” he said.
The government should support the Fair Work submission, which the royal commission recommended, but Professor Ibrahim said, “I don’t believe the government is going to support higher wages.”
At HelloCare, we have close ties with those working on the frontline in aged care. We regularly hear of staff beginning to work regular 12-hours shifts due to staff shortage, of isolated residents alone in their rooms, of staff not having enough time to chat to residents, of not having enough time to take residents to the toilet. What will it take for the government to do something about it?