The former head of a major aged care company was awarded a $900,000 contract to help the government manage a project to improve the financial viability of aged care providers.
The $900,000 contract was awarded through “limited tender” to Cooperage Capital Pty Limited, a company owned by Gary Barnier, a Senate inquiry heard on Tuesday.
Senator Kristina Keneally told the inquiry that Cooperate Capital is a “one-man company” run and owned by Mr Barnier.
Originally awarded in January to the tune of $415,000, the contract was extended this month with the value of an additional half a million dollars.
The purpose of the contract was to employ Mr Barnier to help the government’s residential aged care financial viability project.
Since last year’s Earle Haven disaster, where the residents of an aged care home were relocated overnight after the home unexpectedly shut down, the department has been looking at ways to prevent homes from closing.
Mr Barnier has been assisting the government with identifying aged care providers in financial stress using risk indicators, reaching out to those homes, determining the causes of stress, and put in policies and procedures in place to address any issues.
Mr Barnier was formerly the head of a large aged care provider and is currently on the board of the government’s Aged Care Financing Authority.
He was awarded the contract by Department of Health bureaucrats, but the decision was supported by the deputy secretary of the Department of Health, Michael Lye.
Mr Barnier has “real world” and “unique” experience running aged care homes, Mr Lye explained at the senate inquiry.
“He has done the job in an effective way,” Mr Lye said.
As part of his role with the Aged Care Financing Authority, Mr Barnier has been involved in discussions about financial pressures in aged care and how they affect the delivery of services.
“We need, in the department, real-world experience to understand the practical viability of individual facilities that might be at risk,” Mr Lye said.
No-one can deny Mr Barnier’s experience and knowledge of the sector.
The issue for some, and specifically Labor senator Kristina Keneally is concerned about the reasons that led Mr Barnier to exit the sector. He was previously the chief executive officer of an aged care group, where under his leadership a series of events transpired, one of which where a staff member set a lite the home causing deaths of nine residents.
In another home run by the company, a resident was found with maggots in her mouth.
Senator Keneally also said Mr Barnier himself was accused of bullying aged care residents.
Mr Lye said no findings were made against Mr Barnier, but Senator Keneally said he left the company following an ABC exposé of the matter and before the company’s investigation into the bullying allegations was complete.
“Is this the kind of ‘real world’ experience the department was looking for?” she asked Mr Lye.
Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck and Mr Lye admitted to Senators they were aware of the bullying allegations against Mr Barnier.
This announcement comes only months after the revelation of Mable home care service being awarded the government grant to the tune of $6.6 million to provide “surge workforce” capacity to aged care facilities that experienced an outbreak.
Questions were raised again this month during the COVID-19 senate inquiry about whether or not the government received value for money.
Department of Health acting first assistant secretary, aged care reform and compliance Ms Laffan, said Mable has supplied 130 contractors and filled 2,644 shifts nationally as of 25 September.
Ms Laffan said the department is in negotiations with Mable to extend its contract, which expired on 30 September.
Mr Barnier’s appointment, coupled with a series of other government contracts that have surmounted to no tangle outcomes over the years, does put into question the process and provides ammunition to those in the sector who say aged care is run by a small group of industry insiders who are more interested in personal interests than genuine reform and improvements in the sector. As a result, has added to the culture of narrow thinking, limited transparency, and rather than helping contributes to the industry’s woes.
HelloCare reached out to Mr Barnier to get his perspective but at the time of publishing unfortunately had not received a response.