Feb 10, 2022

“I’m tired of the lies and the aged care sector being disrespected”

Tired of the lies and neglect in sector

That’s not nearly the true story. The federal government with Scott Morrison as treasurer made unprecedented massive funding cuts in 2015, which decimated the residential care sector.

The government denies the cuts and calls them “efficiency” measures, but any way you skin the cat they deliberately and knowingly affected facilities to the point where over 70% of homes are running at a loss – struggling to pay the bills and looking for ways to cut costs, as any business would.

The sector has been on its knees since then and when funding is cut the wheels fall off the bus, things go wrong.

The Morrison government continued its attack by cutting payroll tax exemptions for private homes but leaving the exemption for charitable homes.

We all know how much the cost of living has increased over the last 8-10 years, but the federal government in its wisdom blocked CPI increases for consecutive years and the cuts went on and a very weakened sector emerged.

With the wheels falling off, the liberals reluctantly agreed and a Royal Commission was formed. Over a period of two years they came up with a raft of recommendations to correct the wrongs.

There were 148 recommendations approved, which saw countless additional red tape changes, increased reporting and, of course, frightening the public with the media frenzy. 

While our PM made significant announcements that suggested they were putting $17.7 billion into the sector, well … lots of money was spent, mainly within the health and quality agency, studies, grants, advertising etc, but not on nursing homes.

Of course, this new funding had to be applied for, not an automatic increase, and came with significant reporting – approximately $500 million is the sum of the improvement to nursing homes of that $17.7 billion.

Somewhere in there came COVID, and a thoroughly weakened and broken sector was fighting a pandemic. 

COVID went from the Ruby Princess cruise ship and straight to Dorothy Henderson and Newmarch House. 

Enter the state governments, telling the world that they were there helping, prepared, supportive and with resources. Sadly, none of this was true, no one was prepared for this pandemic and nursing homes needed assistance, but they really didn’t get it. 

State health demanded that homes isolate residents at the facility, which was almost impossible, but there was a glimmer of hope … until the health department told homes that residents have “security of tenure” and couldn’t be moved to different areas and, of course, our frail, elderly residents that did catch COVID were not allowed to use the hospital COVID facilities – which at the time were practically empty. Equipped, staffed and ready, but empty.

Residents died as a result and still, two years later, elderly Australian nursing home residents with COVID are denied hospital care. Why? Well, if you ask for help, the state health departments have all said that nursing homes are federally funded and not our problem.

The feds spent tens of millions on surge staffing, which was never forthcoming. They simply were never available. 

Hundreds of elderly Australians perished and many more were gravely ill because going to hospital was not allowed, no surge staff, no PPE gear, a chaotic testing system that differed from state to state, QR coding and notification that took up to a dozen days to advise that you may have been a close contact. Are we using QR coding, are we wearing masks today or not?

In our state, we had the local health department check and re-check our COVID preparedness in March, but they didn’t present theirs until October that year, and what a waste of time that was. 

Effectively their COVID plan told us that they would do wonders and put out any fires, but we all knew that they didn’t have a fire truck, water, staff or ability to do so. And we have been proven right.

Along comes 2022 and suddenly Albo (Labor leader Anthony Albanese) is talking about aged care and how tough it’s been, the government neglect, COVID problems, staffing problems, etc. 

Call me cynical but it’s clearly more about the upcoming election than concern.

Every independent inquiry for eight years has said that the sector is chronically underfunded and the sector is unsustainable. Last year’s ACFA report clearly said it was unsustainable.

But, still nothing, and the Prime Minister just continues to blame COVID while studiously ignoring his part in the shame. 

Back to Albo, it’s easy for him to criticise, and it’s so easy to see where the true problem lies, but he hasn’t told us what he’s going to do about the underfunding issue, so it’s really hard to support him despite my desperately wanting to.

Where have our supporting associations been through all this time? As far as a result, MIA (missing in action). Endless meetings, but completely unprepared to take a much-needed fight to the government. 

The sector has been neglected by our would-be representatives, state and federal governments and painted by the media as dangerous, lost, unnecessarily locking people up, starving residents etc, and out of control … and supposedly still taking in the money.

If someone wants to know the truth, ask someone like us – we have nothing to hide, there is no advantage by being in lockdown besides keeping our residents and staff safe.

We have spent about $250,000 on PPE and got very little back from the government, and the paperwork for the application would make you weep. Ridiculous and embarrassing, but what would you expect from a government that spends less per GDP than any other first world country.

The federal government created most of the issues currently facing residential care facilities, there will always be a minority doing the wrong thing, but they are a minority.

A question that also continues to be unanswered is, while the private sector and the charitable sector essentially are funded the same, not the same can be said for the 10% of homes run directly by the government. 

How much money are their homes given? How much from the feds and what’s the state top-up? How much per resident? 

The Queensland sector demanded an answer but was refused … that speaks volumes to me.

 

Anton Hutchinson’s family has owned Canberra Aged Care for over 30 years.

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