Australia’s aged care sector has been put under the microscope over the last 18 months. Between the royal commission and the toll of the coronavirus pandemic, the industry has been criticised by the public more than ever before.
To add to the challenges it has faced, there is another huge one taking place in remote areas around the country.
Australia’s regional aged care homes are surviving on the brink, with 166 facilities across the nation at risk of closure due to financial struggles, meaning more than three-quarters of the country’s regional homes are losing money.
Hundreds of older Australians have been left in the lurch with the closure of several regional homes already – where will they go?
In a new investigation by the 7.30 Report, it was discovered that these financial difficulties are a common theme in care facilities around the country.
According to the analysis by chartered accountancy firm Stewart Brown, these financial issues are symptomatic of a sector in crisis.
In the past year, 24 aged care homes around the country have closed, seven of those in regional and remote areas of Australia. These remote facilities made up 282 regional beds, forcing their residents to find other living and care arrangements.
However, Aged Care Reform Now advocate Dr Sarah Russell told the 7.30 Report that any funding increase would have to come with conditions.
“I find it extraordinary that taxpayers’ money is going into the aged care sector, a whopping $21 billion is spent on aged care, and the public really have no way of knowing how that money has been spent,” she said.
Health economist from the Grattan Institute Stephen Duckett agreed.
“At the moment, there are two real problems with aged care funding,” he said.
“First of all, [there’s] a total lack of transparency, and secondly, a lack of regulation and accountability.
“It’s hard to trace where the money goes.”
In response to the royal commission’s findings and recommendations, the Australian Aged Care Collaboration – which represents more than 1,000 providers – released their ‘Aged Care – The Way Forward’ report. It recommends a 15-point plan, which focuses on the priority areas of Human rights, Access and Choice; Workforce; Transparency; and Sustainability. The AACC has urged the Australian Government to adopt this plan.
Sean Rooney, representative of the AACC, said that the upcoming May 1 budget would be the ideal time for the federal government to adequately fund the sector, as part of the government’s formal response to the royal commission by May 31.
As part of the industry response to the royal commission’s final report, AACC representative Patricia Sparrow said the sector was overdue for a total overhaul of the system, rather than continuing to make patch repairs to satiate immediate calls for response.
“If we are to set up our aged care system to guarantee all older Australians the respect and dignity they deserve, we need a total overhaul of the funding model and workforce strategy, not more fiddling at the edges,” she said.
“The royal commission made it clear we need to put older people, their needs and a rights-based system first. To make that possible, big picture reform of the entire system is necessary. As part of this big picture reform we must see the critical aged care workforce grow and be well supported through better pay, conditions and training.
“The inescapable reality is that Australia currently spends less than half of what comparable countries do on aged care (1.2% vs 2.5% of GDP), which means older Australians are denied the care they deserve.”