Lynda Henderson, Mona Orszulak, Charles Linsell, Robin Vote and Lesley Forster, all members of our National Older Persons Reference Group, shared their ideas and answered questions at OPAN’s roundtable: ‘What do older people want from the election?’
Some ideas reinforced themes we are familiar with, but the speakers also brought innovative solutions to the table, proving that older people have much to offer in this space.
Look after aged care staff by employing sufficient numbers and offering them better pay and conditions.
“Aged care workers must get better pay and conditions,” said Ms Orszulak, who has herself worked in aged care, experiencing “first hand” the “lack of esteem and recognition” aged care workers receive.
“They’re overworked and underpaid” – a fact that “undervalues the importance” of older people’s needs, she continued. They often work in “very, very difficult circumstances”.
Ms Orszulak receives support at home and said it’s “absolutely shocking” and “outrageous” her initial support worker was paid “a measly $23 per hour” while the provider, one of the biggest not-for-profit providers in the country, charged the home care package $57 per hour.
She now self manages her home care herself.
“I get the excellent support I need when I need it. The support worker is happy and I’m happy.”
2. Put older people at the centre of reform
Aged care reforms require input from older people or the consumer will be “severely underrepresented”, said Ms Orszulak. “Everyone seems to think they know better than the people themselves what we need, how we feel and how we wish to live our lives.”
Ms Forster said politicians must “respect and value the lived experience of aged people” in planning aged care reforms. They must “bring us in on the discussion more fully than they have been”.
People living with dementia should also be involved in the conversation; they “have the capability of expressing their needs,” she said.
Mr Linsell took a similar view.
“I’d like to make sure that the elderly people are consulted both in the physical environment they need, the services they need, and now in the drafting of the new legislation.
“The legislation needs to be done with a maximum of consultation with older people. I’ve assisted in the drafting of legislation before, and it is very important to involve those who are directly affected by it.”
3. Ensure older people have a say in how they are cared for
Putting older people in aged care homes is “like being in jail”, observed Ms Forster.
Residents often aren’t able to choose what they eat or when, or how they receive their care.
Ms Henderson agreed with this sentiment.
“Many people do feel imprisoned,” she shared. Providers often think of residents as no longer “able to make decisions” the minute they begin receiving aged care services.
4. End for-profit aged care
“I’d like to see an end to privatised home care and privatised residential care. There is no room for profiteers in this industry,” Mr Linsell said.
The government needs to be “more transparent and open” and “interested in people rather than commerce,” Ms Forster added.
Don’t build more huge aged care homes, Ms Forster pleaded. “Who’s benefiting” from the “massive” aged care homes being built near her on the north coast of NSW, she asked? She predicted someone must be making a “massive profit”.
The system “needs fixing now … politicians need to be told we won’t stand for it,” she told listeners.
5. Create a new Aged Care Act based on human rights
“I want to see an Aged Care Act that is not based on private profit but is based on human rights and particularly the rights of older people,” proposed Ms Henderson.
6. End ageism
This includes extending eligibility to the NDIS to include people over the age of 65.
“It seems incredibly wrong to cut out a whole group of people [from the NDIS],” said Ms Forster.
“Older persons mustn’t be made to feel like they’re a burden on society and feel excluded,” noted Ms Orszulak.
She reminded listeners that they will one day be old, too. She wants politicians to “sort out this failed system … before it’s too late – not just for us, but for future generations.
“Because we were you once. And you will be us soon,” she said.
7. Offer integrated aged, disability and healthcare services that are embedded in the community
“I’d love to see an integration of aged care, disability care and healthcare, and I’d like to see that start happening on a local or regional basis,” suggested Ms Henderson.
Ms Forster said there are “creative” ways to deliver services, such as bringing craft groups with people of all ages together with older people to provide engagement and fun.
8. Address aged care funding
Aged care funding is “the elephant in the room”, said Ms Vote.
“How we’re going to sustain our national aged care system into the future needs to be resolved immediately,” she continued. The current system relies heavily on “the generosity of government … we don’t have enough money under the current arrangements to continue with aged care the way it should be”.
9. Create more respite care places, including respite care in the home
For older people living in their own home, why not bring respite carers into the home, suggested Ms Forster? It’s less disruptive and people can keep the things they love around them.
Ms Henderson said there is a three-month wait for respite care in her area. Respite care is essential for carers; “without regular respite, you just can’t do it,” she said.
10. Provide special housing for the over 80s
Older people should have a great range of housing options in which they can live, other than retirement living, which is designed for the over 55s. If more “age friendly” housing is available for older people, they will be able to defer receiving aged care services for longer, Mr Linsell said.
11. Improved transport for older people
Public transport needs to be more accessible for the aged, including having more elevators and toilets available in train stations, said Mr Linsell.
12. Don’t use buzzwords
“They’re ridiculous,” said Ms Forster.