Above: Ian Yates, CEO of COTA Australia (Council on the Ageing).
By Stephen Easton
There were few surprises for those close to the aged care industry in the report released by COTA Australia over the weekend, which summarises popular views expressed to the Minister for Ageing, Mark Butler, at a series of consumer forums around the country.
Older Australians told Minister Butler they wanted to live in their own homes until the very end, if possible, and that they wanted support to stay mentally and physically fit, keep learning and maintain independence.
The people who took the chance to engage the minister in the 'Conversations on Ageing' also want aged care reform to happen now, regardless of who wins the next federal election.
A view was often expressed that older people are undervalued for their past and present contributions to society, according to COTA Australia CEO, Ian Yates, who authored the summary report, and any move to generally simplify the system and make clear information easily available would be welcomed.
“There were usually one or two people at each Conversation who expressed concern about having to sell their principal residence but this concern was not generally picked up and supported by the majority of the audience,” Mr Yates writes in the report. “There was recognition by many that this is the norm now.”
Minister Butler said he had heard of “an aged care system in crisis,” from most of more than 3,400 people who attended the 31 ‘Conversations on Ageing’, which were run with the help of COTA Australia in cities and towns around the country following the release of the highly influential Productivity Commission (PC) report, Caring for Older Australians, last year.
Regarding the PC report, conversation participants generally supported the proposal that services be accessed through a single aged care ‘Gateway agency’, although some were sceptical that it would be delivered as described. Consumers also agreed with the PC that aged care services should no longer be rationed by limiting bed licenses and community care packages.
Despite hoping not to need it, older Australians did want to see general improvements to the quality of residential aged care, underpinned by better-trained, higher-paid staff and maintained by a more robust accreditation and complaints system, including stronger penalties and genuine spot checks for facilities without prior warning.
Above: Minister for Mental Health, Ageing and Social Inclusion, Mark Butler, at a Conversation on Ageing in Sydney last year.
Consumers told the minister they wanted strategies to cater for ethnic and sexual diversity, and greater choice and control over their lives, preferring “the dignity of risk” to being mollycoddled like children. In the same vein, many wanted greater control over end-of-life options, including access to high quality palliative care and in some cases, voluntary euthanasia.
Concern was also expressed about the standard fee structures for retirement villages, inadequate support for people with dementia, including younger onset dementia, as well as the lack of a public dental health system, a health reform strongly advocated by the Greens.
“The overwhelming message is that older Australians are not getting the quality of care and support that they deserve from the current system,” Mr Butler said in a statement.
“For many older Australians, the price they pay to enter care is based on how much money they have in their pockets, rather than a reflection of the true cost of care and value for money.”
“Accommodation bonds paid to get into residential care cost an average of $264,000 but can be more than $1 million and are usually raised through a forced firesale of the family home at a time of crisis.
“As I have traveled around the country attending these conversations, older Australians have been telling me that they are prepared to contribute more to the cost of their care, but only if they get a better deal with more transparency, a higher level of quality and choice, as well as access to more services in the home.”