The Federal Government has committed an extra $840 million to help the aged care sector deal with COVID-19 pressures on its workforce, but there are concerns the money will only tide it over until the end of the year.
Minister for Health and Aged Care, Mark Butler, made the announcement in Adelaide this morning and said the Government would have more to say later this year about whether they would further extend these measures again into the new year.
“There will be a need to retain some measures over the course of 2023 I’m very sure,” he said.
“So over the course of the rest of this year, we’ll be considering the need for measures to be extended beyond 2022.”
While the sector has welcomed the funding, aged care peak bodies have voiced their concerns that it will only last until the end of December and are calling for clarity on whether the Government will be committing to a funding extension into next year.
The aged care sector will receive $840 million of COVID response money – a total of $1.4 billion going to healthcare and aged care, but Interim Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Aged and Community Care Providers Association (ACCPA), Paul Sadler, told the ABC there were fears the money will not last long.
“This is still very much an active pandemic response that we have in aged care at the moment,” he said.
“Practical measures like rapid antigen tests, PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests, and funding the extra staffing that aged care services have had to put on to deal with the pandemic is very welcomed.
“There’s no resolution yet as to what the plans will be for COVID protection mechanisms into the new year.”
As the country approaches the end of the winter season, concerns are growing about a possible new wave or variant of COVID-19 developing for summer.
“So we are all, I think – Government and the aged care sector, the health sector – on notice that there could be another wave to come,” Mr Sadler said.
“And clearly, if that were to occur, we would be looking at enhanced protection mechanisms and additional funding to support aged care [from the Government].”
The Department of Health and Aged Care released updated COVID-19 statistics on outbreaks in Australian residential aged care facilities last week.
There are currently 270 active outbreaks in residential aged care facilities across Australia with 1,654 active COVID-19 cases across residents and staff.
Since September 7, there have been 104 new outbreaks, 40 new resident deaths and 1,580 combined new resident and staff cases.
For the period of January 1 to September 12, 2022, COVID-19 is recorded as the cause of death in 7.1%of all deaths in permanent residents in aged care facilities.
Of all the deaths in residential aged care since late November 2021, 6.3% of 49,009 deaths were due to COVID-19.
Catholic Health Australia (CHA) has also welcomed the Federal Government’s $1.4 billion extension of COVID-19 funding announced today for the health and aged care sector.
Jason Kara, Director of Aged Care at CHA, said the extra $840 million to help cover staff and equipment costs in the aged care sector will provide a much-needed boost to the 550 care facilities in the CHA network.
“This additional Government funding comes at a vital time given over half of Australia’s aged care homes are currently operating at a loss,” he said.
“Rapid antigen testing and PPE [personal protective equipment] are essential for residents to safely meet loved ones and improve their social connectedness and quality of life.
“But anti-COVID measures cost considerable money and that funding needs to come from somewhere. We’re grateful the Government has recognised this.”
This announcement is on top of news last week that COVID-19 Pandemic Leave Disaster Payments will continue indefinitely so long as COVID-positive people are required to isolate.