Rural aged care providers say they are effectively competing with the government Multi-Purpose Service, which are funded to provide care in communities lacking services.
An aged care provider in Gunnedah, in rural NSW, recently had an admitted resident up and leave its facility, opting instead for the Multi-Purpose Service 30 kilometres away, having realised that the financial requirements were cheaper there.
Gunnedah Aged Care Services, the sole provider in the town, said it has also seen a number of recent potential residents elect for a placement in the MPS instead.
CEO Sandra Strong told Australian Ageing Agenda that the MPS had a “market advantage”, and listed the service as one of the factors impacting her facility’s occupancy rate.
The MPS Program is jointly funded by federal and state governments to provide health and aged care to rural and remote communities that could not viably support standalone hospitals or aged care facilities.
However, as AAA reported last week, in some regions of rural and remote NSW, MPSs are operating close-by or in the same town as aged care providers, resulting in direct competition.
The issue has escalated after the MPS Program got a $5.7 million boost from the federal Minister for Aged Care Sussan Ley late last year, specifically to increase provision of aged care in rural areas.
Peak body Aged & Community Services NSW & ACT has argued that as MPSs do not charge user contributions, some people are electing to wait for a bed in an MPS to avoid higher fees.
That was the reality faced by Ms Strong, who said competition from the local MPS was ongoing. However, she said it had been exacerbated since the introduction of refundable accommodation deposits (RADs) and daily accommodation payments (DAPs).
“I’d like a level playing field,” said Ms Strong, noting that MPSs were not reliant on the Aged Care Funding Instrument for their funding, and that the accreditation process overseeing MPSs was not aged care specific.
Sue Thomson, Aged and Community Services NSW & ACT director and regional coordinator for the Hunter-New England region said that the MPS Program no longer met its original objectives, which was to address market failure.
Many rural providers were faced with consumer perceptions of MPSs as a cheaper accommodation alternative, and decreased occupancy rates since the inception of RADs and DAPs could be specifically attributed to competition from MPS services, Ms Thomson told Australian Ageing Agenda.
Ms Thomson, who is also the CEO of McClean Care, said MPSs and residential aged care now had unequal “competing models”, given that MPSs had not had to keep pace with changing models of aged care provision, such as wellness and reablement approaches.
She noted the issue was incredibly complex, given that the role that MPSs played in acute care and primary care was still very much needed. She said it was time for review of the MPS Program, and suggested there was scope for collaborative partnership between MPSs and aged care providers that allowed for “a cooperative environment, not a competitive one”.
“You can imagine a partnership where the MPSs are providing the acute and primary care role, and then the aged care provider is providing the residential and home care services role,” she said.
The federal Department of Health told AAA that, as a rule, funding allocations were not made to MPSs in towns where residential aged care services were located, unless an application could demonstrate certain conditions.
These conditions included that the residential aged care service:
• did not intend to expand its operation
• was in support of the establishment or expansion of an MPS
• required the MPS to deliver care to residents with complex needs.
“The department recently became aware of an instance where a residential aged care provider intends to expand its service in the same town where a new MPS was allocated places. NSW Health and the department are considering option for future service provision in the area,” a departmental spokesperson said.
Fees set by a MPS were a matter for the state government operating the service and that MPSs were required to provide a level of quality care consistent with the applicable aged care standards, the spokesperson said.
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