How many inquiries, reviews, taskforces, think tanks, consultations and consultant reports does it take for the government to change a light bulb in an aged care home? Over the past year or so, the government has investigated, among other things, the aged care workforce, reforms, accreditation, complaints scheme, innovation, standards of care and elder abuse – and still the light globe remains unchanged.
Graeme Croft refers to the slump in share price of aged care companies (Letters, 6/9). This followed analysts downgrading aged care stocks after the government issued new guidelines. After the budget announced changes to the Aged Care Funding Instrument, causing providers concern about profits, some privately owned aged care homes responded by charging additional service fees, including “capital refurbishment fees” and “asset replacement contributions”. These fees improved profits but did not provide any benefit to residents. The Department of Health has announced that these types of fees contravened the legislation.
So while I agree with Croft that the industry needs serious reform I don’t agree with his conclusion. The care of vulnerable older people is too important to be left to the free market. In an unregulated environment, these extra charges, up to $18 a day, would have gone unnoticed.
Croft also refers to the “high standards” set by the government. On the contrary, legislation falls remarkably short of demanding high standards. Unlike childcare centres, there is no requirement for aged care homes to have mandated staff-to-resident ratios. The accreditation and outcome standards also remain woefully inadequate. “Consumers” of aged care are often frail. They do not have the capacity to “drive” the residential aged care sector.
Sarah Russell, Northcote
The Federal Government is promoting its reforms in the aged care sector as supporting a more consumer-focused system of care.
But do de-regulation, the introduction of a more market-based funding system and the entry of new commercial interests add up to better care for older Australians?
The answer, according to Dr Sarah Russell, is a resounding no. She argues that the current reform agenda risks exploiting vulnerable consumers and that more regulation is needed in the aged care sector to reduce rorting and promote the delivery of high quality care.