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.
Mayor of Mornington Peninsula Shire Council, Councillor Anthony Marsh, said the council wanted “to ensure our residents had a choice and the advantage of a competitive market environment”. Did he also consider quality and continuity of care for some of our most vulnerable citizens?
At a time of extreme workforce shortages in the aged care sector, many Council support workers have chosen to leave the sector rather than accept a 30 per cent cut in wages. While council remuneration was $34 an hour with paid travel time, Mecwacare and Bolton Clarke pays support workers $24 an hour.
Furthermore, the Councils have outsourced their aged care services at the worst possible time – during a pandemic when many private providers have reduced numbers of staff. Blind Freddy could see the transition to private providers was destined for failure.
And now more Councils are lining up to discontinue their aged care services. But why the rush? The Albanese government has delayed the start date of the Home Support Program until 1 July 2024.
In announcing the delay, the new federal Aged Care Minister, Anika Wells, said the government was “taking the time to address the concerns instead of rushing to failure.” So why are councils rushing into failure? Surely Councils have a duty of care to their clients.
The Coalition government was determined to turn the provision of home care services into a competitive market – turning older people into “economic participants”. Its Aged Care Roadmap promoted a “consumer driven and market-based system” and “lighter regulation”.
However, some Councils, such as Darebin and Moreland Council, rejected transitioning their long standing and long trusted services to a market-based system. These councils understand that aged care services cannot be reduced to a simple financial equation. Instead, they appreciate how important council services are to older people in their communities.
Council aged care workers are valued and sometimes loved by their clients. Older residents and their families appreciate having a highly trained and fairly remunerated Council employee provide aged care services. They can also be assured they are not being ripped off by a private provider that prioritises profits over care.
The most common complaint about corporate home care providers is the high turnover of unqualified, inexperienced, untrained and poorly paid support workers. A high turnover of staff is a recipe for disaster. It results in strangers being sent to work in an older person’s home. Older people have to just trust that they will be treated with respect and kindness.
While some councils understand that an older person needs high quality and reliable aged care services, other councils, like Mornington Peninsula Shire and Boroondara Council, aim to transform older people into an empowered ‘aged care consumer’ – to position older people as active participants in an economic transaction. Yet many older people and families simply do not know where to start.
They soon learn that the only place to start is with My Aged Care, established in 2013 by the federal government as a ‘one-stop aged care shop’. Previously, GPs and local councils had been the first port of call. Now older people begin their ‘aged care journey’ by phoning My Aged Care or, for those who are computer literate, by visiting its website.
My Aged Care has been such an unmitigated disaster that six years after it was introduced, an Aged Care System Navigator was developed to help people ‘navigate’ the aged care system. The absurdity of needing a second service to assist people to use the first service brings to mind an episode of Utopia.
‘Navigate’ has become the new buzzword in aged care. The first discussion paper from the Royal Commission was titled: Navigating the maze: an overview of Australia’s current aged care system. But it was not a maze when local councils delivered services to older people in their home.
How did the aged care system become so complex that older people and their family need help to navigate it? Let’s hope it is not too late for the Labor government to restore humanity to the aged care system.
First published in The Age 13 August 2022