Over the past decade, I have written around 80 opinion pieces about the systemic failures in the aged care system. These opinion pieces have been published in The Age, The Guardian, Herald Sun, Croakey and Michael West. I have also been a frequent contributor to Letters in The Age.
The federal government has recently made numerous, welcome commitments to improve the lives of older people living in residential aged care. Yet there is one glaring problem with the aged care reform bill that recently passed parliament.
Schedule nine of the aged care and other legislation amendment (royal commission response) bill 2022 provides immunity to aged care providers and their staff for some of the most objectionable aspects of aged care – the use of restrictive practices without having obtained lawful consent.
After the heart-breaking revelations of the Aged Care Royal Commission, I hoped stories of neglect and poor treatment of older people were behind us. Not so, thanks to the decision of some local councils to wash their hands of aged care services.
Just this week we have heard that thousands of vulnerable of older people have been left without home care after Mornington Peninsula Shire Council and Boroondara Council outsourced their services to corporate providers.
The problems plaguing aged care homes are not new. Residential aged care was failing long before coronavirus. The pandemic has merely highlighted the systemic problems.
When the federal government decreed that Australians should “live with Covid”, the safety of older people living in aged care homes was once again not on the Coalition’s radar.
In yet another predictable disaster, Covid has spread like wildfire in aged care homes.
Refusing to publicly name aged care homes with Covid-19 outbreaks; secrecy around the number of deaths in specific aged care homes; information about standards of care and complaints about aged care homes considered “commercial-in-confidence”; voting against reforms that would spell out what the $13bn of taxpayers’ money given each year to aged care providers is actually spent on.
This government has a long history of being more concerned about the reputational damage of aged care providers – some of whom are multinational corporations – than looking after the interests of those living in residential aged care, most of whom are elderly and frail.
he only aspect of in-home care for older people that makes the news is the ridiculously long queue for home care packages. Flying under the radar is the chronic rorting, with corporate providers skimming off vast profits.
The Aged Care Royal Commissioners noted that a recipient of a Level 4 home care package worth $53,000 received on average just 8 hours and 45 minutes of support. Surely this was a big red flag.
HeraldSun 4 April 2022
I have spent six years trying to improve the aged care system on behalf of older people and families. This has been done as an unpaid advocate with no government funding.
The aged care system is broken. Numerous inquiries, including a royal commission, have revealed evidence of poor care, negligence, neglect, abuse and assault.
We know what needs to be done. The solution to the crisis starts with transparency and accountability.
I have become a stuck record in my calls for the federal government to demand transparency from the aged care providers in return for the billions of taxpayers’ dollars they get each year – some $125 billion over the next five years.
Take the latest example. The May 2021 budget gave providers an extra $10 a day per resident to improve the quality of the meals. Some $460 million has already been spent, with an estimated $700 million to be spent this financial year. And what do providers have to do in return? Simply give an undertaking that they will report to government on a quarterly basis what they spend on food.
The royal commissioners had warned that aged care providers have a long history of not spending extra government money on what they are supposed to. So why give them a further $700 million without directly tying this money to food?
Many residents have told me they are still being served unappetising food. It seems many providers have not used this extra money on what they were supposed to.
The Aged Care Minister Greg Hunt and Minister for Aged Care Services Richard Colbeck claim that “the Morrison Government has achieved significant reform across the five pillars of its five-year plan to deliver respect, care and dignity for every senior Australian”.
“We responded to the (Aged Care royal commissioners’) recommendations and are now implementing this once-in-a-generation reform that puts senior Australians first,” Minister Hunt said.
Seriously? There has been practically no progress on most of the recommendations one year after the royal commissioners released their final report.
Labor has proposed some measures to improve aged care in Australia. However so much more is needed to solve the crisis in aged care.
The failure of successive governments to respond meaningfully to the crisis in aged care has prompted me to put my hand up to replace the Aged Care Minister in his seat of Flinders. After years of advocating from the sidelines, it is clear aged care needs a strong advocate in parliament.
Dr Sarah Russell is the Voices endorsed Independent Candidate.
The federal government claims repeatedly that a consumer-driven, free market-based residential aged care system will provide world-class care. This is consistent with its neoliberal agenda. However, the so-called “consumers” are often frail, elderly people, many with dementia. How can they demand a high-quality service on the free market?
The irony of the move towards a free-market aged care system is that private companies continue to put out their hands for more government money – without any transparency about how they spend it. Do they spend the government subsidy on providing nursing care, meals and activities for residents or on salaries for their executive team and profits for shareholders?