By Keryn Curtis
WA aged and disability care organisation, Baptistcare will fly protest banners at its 13 residential aged care facilities and three disability and community care sites from today, in protest at what it says is the Federal government’s decision to cut residential aged care funding by $500million.
The organisation has taken the step of launching the visual protest, which includes a call to action via social media, to raise greater public awareness of the government’s 1 July adjustments to the Aged Care Funding Instrument (ACFI).
CEO of Baptistcare, Dr Lucy Morris, says the Federal Government has made it almost impossible for not-for-profit residential care providers like Baptistcare to provide appropriate care services for elderly and vulnerable West Australians.
“Through its adjustment of the assessment tool used to fund high care services, the Federal government has stripped money from the services needed to care for older, sicker West Australians who have more complex health needs and need higher levels of care,” said Dr Morris.
“We don’t support the Federal Government’s decisions to do this and we hope that by flying flags of protest against this decision we will assist in creating awareness for this issue locally, and help to make a difference to residents living in our organisation and the staff that work with us.”
Dr Morris said the four metre high red and black stand-alone banners had been designed in consultation with the peak body, Aged and Community Services WA (ACSWA) to attract attention. The message reads, ‘Government neglects aged care. Show your support by tweeting #agedcare.’
“The flags sit on a spike and they are very visible and eye catching to passing traffic. We work with local communities and the decisions made by the Government will impact directly on the local community and they will struggle.”
Minister refutes funding cuts
However, Minister for Ageing, Mark Butler, has rejected the funding cut claims as a myth, referring to the recently available data from the ACFI Monitoring Committee, the group established to monitor expenditure growth under the funding instrument and the impact of changes taking effect on 1 July, which show increases in average subsidies since the changes were introduced.
“The Government has repeatedly made clear that care subsidies increase by $310 million in the 2012-13 budget alone, with further growth in the coming years. The data is now publicly available, dispelling the myth that providers’ funds are being cut.”
The Minister said the real data shows that, nationally, average subsidies increased from $133.96 per resident per day in June to $134.83 in July while in Western Australia, average subsidies grew from $132.55 in June to $134.18 in July.
“The monitoring group will continue to monitor growth in care subsidies to ensure they continue tracking in the right direction and as expected,” he said.
Smaller operators hardest hit
Dr Morris says she is particularly concerned about the future for smaller providers and those in rural and remote locations. She said, while some of the larger aged care providers were able to ride out funding losses, it was the smaller providers and those often in rural and regional areas that were struggling hardest for survival.
“It’s the smaller providers that are getting squeezed. They are on very tight margins and all of their money is going into service delivery. In regional and rural areas there is huge pressure on them.
“These are the ones that will go first and I believe we have a moral obligation to ensure we keep access to services right across the community.
“I’m getting smaller providers coming to us and talking about how they can shut down or merge with another provider. They don’t want to shut up shop but they don’t want to drop their quality so it’s extremely difficult. I think the loss of these smaller localised providers will be a big loss to their communities,” Dr Morris said.
Dr Morris said that, while she understood at an intellectual level the need for service providers to become more sustainable generally and that this meant inevitable consolidation of the industry at one level, she wants to see a commitment from the Government to ensure services in regional and rural areas are not sacrificed in the process.
“Yes, providers are behaving in an appropriate way, looking at the long term picture and viability and their sustainability and I get that,” she said.
“But I do not see the Government engaging in the issue of the loss of visibility and services locally. If I look at the for profit market, those services are mostly in metro areas. They’re not interested in the marginal areas, which is where we go because that is our mandate and our mission.
“I am concerned we will end up with what we have in other markets –a handful of big providers and others won’t be able to compete. That is not good enough in human services. And I believe we will be diminished by having fewer providers,” she said.
But Minister Butler has countered this, pointing to the Government’s extended commitment to the viability supplement and to the data showing increases to average subsidies for both smaller and remote providers.
“Average subsidies for remote services increased from $111.08 in June to $112.03 in July; and average subsidies for the smallest providers increased from $112.77 in June to $113.31 in July.
“In addition to this continued growth in ACFI funding, the viability supplement provides additional funding for regional and small services. As part of the Living Longer Living Better aged care reform package the Australian Government extended its commitment to the viability supplement.
“The Government is projected to provide more than $280 million in viability supplements over the next five years,” Mr Butler said.
Dr Morris said she refused to accept the limits imposed on aged care funding which she described as purely political.
“The fundamental driver washing through this and colouring everything, is the political and financial one and the need for the government to deliver a surplus and to stay in government. I refuse to accept the limits imposed. They are particular political limits and should not be what’s driving this important issue.
“The innovation in the 21st century is to allow communities to be self-sustaining. Governments should be able to talk to local communities and help them to come up with solutions that meet their needs. But the solution right now is centrally driven and doesn’t take into account any of these variables.
“While the Government still controls input, output and throughput and while we don’t have universal entitlements and are still trying to meet short term needs of balancing a budget and getting a surplus, there will still be gaps and we will not meet the longer term needs of elderly Australians,” Dr Morris said.
“I have metaphorically set a stake in the ground and said we have to start talking here. The last time WA planted its feet firmly on the ground and said we need to talk, we got a severe push back by the Minister [for Mental Health and Ageing]. But I will go on telling my story and hope the Minister will respond but in a way that leaves the door open and doesn’t slam it in my face, especially for WA and especially for rural and regional not for profits.”
Stephen Kobelke, the chief executive of Aged and Community Services WA (ACSWA), which supports the protest, says the State’s not-for-profit aged care sector has been struggling for years, desperately trying to survive in one of the world’s most expensive cities. He says the funding cuts have caused disbelief among not-for-profit residential aged care providers who are at ‘tipping point’.
“Residential care provision in this State is at the absolute tipping point under the current funding regime, and now has to struggle with an additional major reduction in anticipated funding.
“All West Australians should be very concerned by this decision and its impact on the elderly people in aged care homes, in addition to their families, our hospital system and community home care providers, all of whom will be faced with trying to care for many more people with high care needs who simply have nowhere to go.”
# Western Australian aged care providers have been centrally involved in a vocal protest against changes to the Aged Care Funding Instrument since the changes were announced in June. Click here to see other stories related to this ACFI issue.
Above: The banners developed by Baptistcare WA read: ‘Government neglects aged care. Show your support by tweeting #agedcare‘