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Optimising aged care funding

Religious, community-based and charitable organisations were once the main providers of residential aged care in Australia. Families could feel reasonably secure that while standards of care would vary, aged care facilities were not motivated by profit. During the past decade, privately owned aged care facilities have grown at twice the rate of those in the non-profit sector. Publicly listed companies are now the fastest growing owners of aged care facilities.

Earlier this year, Bentleys Chartered Accountants reported that profits in the aged care industry rose significantly. Despite the small sample (only 179 aged care homes), their report estimated that net profits jumped 159% in 2015, from $4.14 to $10.71 per resident per day.

The growth in the aged care industry is underpinned not only by our ageing population but also government subsidies. Major aged-care providers such as BUPA, Japara, Regius and Estia receive substantial government subsidies. Estia, for example, received a 10.9% increase in government subsidies during last financial year.

The changes to Aged Care Funding Instrument (ACFI) announced in the recent budget are intended to help curb a predicted $3.8 billion blowout in government subsidies. The changes will save the government $1.2 billion.

The peak bodies that represent providers of residential aged care – Leading Aged Services Australia (LASA), Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA) and Aged Care Guild – have described these changes as a “budget cut”. The Aged Care Guild complains that the budget is fuelling uncertainty in the industry and could force a rethink on future investment plans.

In an increasingly competitive environment within the aged care sector, peak bodies for providers have successfully lobbied the government for less regulation. The recent Aged Care Roadmap describes “lighter deregulation” and a “consumer driven and market based system”. Paradoxically, the providers of aged care homes lobby simultaneously for a decrease in regulation and an increase in government subsidies.

Government subsidies in aged care often serve the interests of the providers more than residents. When a resident is reclassified as requiring a higher level of care, the provider receives more money from the government. However, staff levels rarely change nor are extra services provided to the resident.

Currently, funding for aged care homes is based on a ‘terminal decline model’ rather than ‘restorative care’.  The provider receives additional subsidies when a resident declines. There is no financial incentive for providers to introduce services such as strength training or lifestyle programs that would improve residents’ quality of life. Instead, a provider is rewarded for promoting dependency rather than encouraging wellness.

Under the current arrangements, the providers do their own assessments for government subsidies. Many providers employ staff purely to complete the ACFI paperwork. The role of these staff is to generate income for the employers rather than provide care to residents. Some providers employ Aged Care Consultants who specialise in “ACFI optimization”. These Aged Care Consultants promote themselves as specialists who help to maximise funding for the aged care home.

It is not only the for-profit organisations that are making massive profits in residential aged care. Mecwacare, for example, is as a not-for-profit organisation that offers residential aged care. According to its Annual Report, it made a net profit of $3.9M for the year ended 30 June 2015. It purchased a new head office and added a further six Aged Care Homes to its portfolio.

For both the for-profit and not-for profit sector, ACFI documentation appears to have become a creative writing exercise. It has been reported that one in eight claims for government subsidies are incorrect. Whether the blowout is due to false claims for subsidies or the increasing number of high care residents in aged care is unclear.

The federal government recently introduced fines to curb a growing trend of incorrect, or deliberately false, claims for subsidies. Whether a fine of merely $10,800 for providers who repeatedly make false claims will act as a deterrent remains to be seen. Money may speak louder than the coroner.

Coronial inquests into separate deaths at two aged care homes, BUPA Kempsey and Arcare Hampstead in Melbourne, exposed inadequate care, mismanagement and cover-ups in response to complaints. Despite this inadequate care, both BUPA Kempsey and Arcare Hampstead were fully accredited by the regulator, the Aged Care Quality Agency, with perfect scores of 100 per cent in all criteria. Surely this suggests something is wrong with the accreditation processes.

Following the coronial inquiries, both homes were asked to improve their policies and procedures. However, the Aged Care Quality Agency did not change the accreditation processes. The accreditation and outcome standards remain woefully inadequate.

The Australian Aged Care Quality Agency must review the process of accreditation. The accreditation process should play an important role in monitoring the standards of care in all aged care facilities. Given accreditation enables aged care facilities to receive government subsidies, it should not be a rubber stamp.

Aged care homes requires greater scrutiny, accountability and transparency. We need evidence-based information so that we can have informed discussions about how to provide the best possible care for frail, elderly people who live in aged care homes. We need to feel reassured that government subsidies are being used to improve the quality of life of residents, not the pockets of providers.

Dr Sarah Russell is the Principal Researcher at Research Matters and a former Registered Nurse.

Published in Online Opinion

Aged care: Preventable nursing home deaths surge

The Age
Michael Bachelard
29 May 2017

Sarah Russell’s mother, Joan, died in a nursing home in September 2015. She believes the death was premature.

“When my mother was engaged, she was terrific. When she was alone and not engaged, she’d suffer anxiety … [and] she would get up and walk,” Dr Russell, a public health researcher, said.

Dr Russell gave up work to look after her, but she could not be there at all times, so she attached a note to her mother’s walking frame to warn the personal care assistants at the aged care facility not to leave her walker within reach.

One day, in the dining room after lunch, they did.

“She got up and walked, fell over. She didn’t break her hip, but she did damage her ribs, and six weeks later she was dead. The GP made the connection between the fall and her decline … I think the fall hastened her death.”

Dr Russell said the care assistants in Joan Russell’s home were “extremely busy”, but “the other explanation is that there were a lot of people in Mum’s nursing home for whom English was not their first language.

“It’s a real problem, not just for instructions left on a walker, but for communication at all. I don’t know if the person who left the trolley beside my mother was not able to read the instructions or was too busy and forgot.

“We were great friends, my mother and I … It mattered a lot to me that she had the fall.”

Dr Russell received an apology from the facility.

Read more here

Behind the numbers

Letter, The Age

The federal government cut payments to aged care by $1.2 billion over four to help curb a predicted blowout in costs. Aged care providers are predictably are up in arms. Unfortunately, government subsidies often serves the interests of the providers more than residents.

Under the current arrangements, the providers do their own assessments of residents. When a resident is reclassified as requiring a higher level of care, the provider receives more money from the federal government. However, staffing levels rarely change nor are extra services provided to the resident. One in eight claims are reportedly incorrect.

The Aged Care Funding Instrument is based on residents’ level of care rather than ‘restorative care’.  There is no financial incentive for providers to introduce services such as strength training or lifestyle programs that would improve residents’ quality of life.

The funding of aged care homes requires greater scrutiny and transparency to ensure the best possible care for frail, elderly people.

Sarah Russell, Northcote

Relatives bear load

Letter, The Age

Sarah Russell’s article (“We’re neglecting our ageing population”, Comment, 18/4) describes many of the serious shortcomings evident to anyone who has experienced the emotional turmoil of placing a loved one into institutional care.

Mecwacare’s Noel Miller Centre in Glen Iris is a case in point. In the high-care facility, significant cutbacks in staff numbers along with general management disengagement from resident service delivery is of great concern to those who visit daily, some twice daily. All too often relatives have to help with tasks from feeding, bathing and room cleaning because staff are too pressed. Management too often does not see what actually occurs in residents’ rooms and common areas – preferring to remain in their offices.

Curiously, Mecwacare, a not-for-profit organisation, recorded a net profit of $3.9 million for the year ended June 30, 2015, and bought a new head office in Malvern and added six aged care homes to its portfolio.

Neither the board nor the executive of Mecwacare has explained why growing the portfolio of buildings and Mecwa facilities should take precedence over the care and welfare of those already living in their facilities – especially in their high-care units.

 John Simpson, former resident relative – Mecwacare

Pain is real, not a myth

Letter, The Age

It is tragic that older people commit suicide (The Age, 17/1). The National Coronial Inquiry Service estimates that two people over the age of 80 are taking their lives every week. The most common method is hanging.

Ian Hickie suggests older people commit suicide because of myths and negative stereotypes about ageing, pain relief, hospitals and how the health system treats elderly people. Are these myths?

Recently, an elderly woman living in an aged care home died in excruciating pain because no one was suitably qualified on the night shift to administer the prescribed morphine. The woman’s daughter was so traumatised she could not remain at her mother’s bedside to hold her hand.

We do not need motherhood statements about healthy ageing. We need political action to ensure older Australians are valued and receive the quality of health care that they deserve.

 

Sarah Russell, Northcote

 

Our elderly need homes, not warehousing

estia

Language  shapes our sense of place. Residential aged care facilities are places that our most vulnerable older people call home; the home that will, for most, be their last place on earth. The term “facility” dehumanises aged care. Facilities are built to perform functions in the most efficient manner. In contrast, a home is a welcoming place, where friends and family drop in for a cuppa or a chat,   and, if we need help, assist us around the house, the garden or even with dressing.

Since the 1990s successive governments have failed to heed the forecasts of demographers on population ageing. Now with the need for housing and care options exceeding the capacity of families and communities, an investment boom is taking place. Private equity firms, foreign investors and superannuation and property real estate investment trusts are entering the residential aged care market in larger numbers. And they are building larger facilities.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, half of all residential aged care facilities had more than 60 places in 2014 compared with 28per cent a decade ago. Increasingly built on reclaimed industrial land, aged care facilities now serve as places to warehouse our parents and grandparents,  removed from daily community life.

The Aged Care Financing Authority estimates the residential aged care sector requires $31 billion of investment over the next decade. Handy if this can come from private funds. To attract investors, the Productivity Commission recommends a competitive market with reduced regulation. In a recent letter to the editor (8/1), the chief executive of the Aged Care Guild listed “infrastructure, technology, and training and consumer choice” as the improvements “unleashed” on the sector. Care was not mentioned.

Using language of facilities, scale efficiencies, corporatised operations and the generation of better margins enables investors, industry bodies and politicians to respond in solely economic terms, forgetting they are building a home where care is provided for us, our parents and grandparents.

Policies seeking to improve care are bureaucratic and largely meaningless because they are based on the language of business facilities. While we need strong standards and monitoring of aged care services, we equally need to change the prevailing view of ageing, and what it means to provide a home and care.

We need to include the broader moral view on the question of how  we, as a community, can create an age-friendly environment for all.

We hold deeply negative attitudes to ageing, lumping together all  older people as  a drain on the economy, separating them from the life span, and pitting them against the young for resources. Fearful of our own mortality, frailness and dependence on others, we stigmatise older people. While we respect those who can take care of themselves, or who are “not a bother to anyone”, those who are frail and needing care are not accorded the same respect. This equates to a failure to recognise our parents and grandparents as full human beings. Within aged care, these social views of old people as worthless and unproductive are  reflected and magnified when faced with the daily reality of frail human bodies. When we treat people as “other”, when the stereotypes structure policies and culture, we treat people carelessly.

We need a moral approach to the care of older people based on kindness. We need to recognise in older people an inner life much like ours; complex, full of memories, filled with desires, passions and vitality even if their bodies and minds are no longer as agile. There is a significance to late life. It has purpose. Its meanings need to be seen and celebrated.

We need to shift our view of frail, older people to include the recognition of their contribution to our nation’s prosperity over the whole of their lives. We need to value the contribution people who need care can, and do, make to the lives of others.

Everyone is responsible for the culture of ageing. We need effective leadership from governments, the private sector, businesses, families, community members and older people themselves. We need to create places where we can live the end of our lives as part of the community, in homes where we receive care with respect and kindness. Our sense of belonging is deeply rooted to our sense of place and purpose. We have a moral responsibility to create age-friendly places for all.

Dr Kathleen Brasher is a member of the WHO strategic advisory committee for the Global Network of Age Friendly Communities

 

 

Respect living wills

Letter, The Age

I arrived at an aged care facility recently to find a fire truck, 2 Mobile Intensive Care Unit Ambulances (MICA), a paramedic motorcycle and an ordinary ambulance. The flashing lights heralded the death of a 94-year-old resident. The nurse in charge had dialled 000 despite explicit written instructions that the resident not be resuscitated. Residents of aged care facilities are encouraged to make living wills. These advance directives allow residents and their families to state their wishes for end-of-life medical care. These living wills are meaningless unless health care professionals respect our wishes.

Sarah Russell, Northcote

Too quick to prescribe

pills

Letter, The Age

I am the medical power of attorney of my 91-year-old mother, who lives in an aged-care facility. She was recently reviewed by a psychogeriatrician, who prescribed a new drug to slow down the progression of Mum’s dementia, despite the fact her dementia is progressing slowly without this drug. Instead, I prescribed lifestyle intervention, such as outings and conversation, to improve Mum’s quality of life.

Another doctor was concerned my mother was taking a diuretic without a potassium supplement. I explained that she ate several bananas a week, because they are her favourite fruit. Surely, this is preferable to taking a drug.

Last Saturday, my mother had a fall. The doctor was sure she had not fractured her ribs, but still ordered an X-ray. The only treatment for a fractured rib is rest and analgesia. I cancelled the X-ray and instead prescribed trips to the park in a wheelchair and The Age crossword. With burgeoning healthcare costs, I call on all medical doctors to ask: is that drug or medical test really necessary?

Sarah Russell, Northcote