Aged care has been a hot-button topic in the lead-up to this weekend’s state election in South Australia.
South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill is seeking a fifth consecutive term for his Labor government amidst concern about his Government’s handling of revelations of poor treatment of aged care residents at the Oakden Older Persons Mental Health Service.
Oakden was located in the north-east of the state and subject to both state and commonwealth regulatory systems. The failures there triggered the Carnel-Paterson review into aged care quality regulatory processes, which delivered its final report in October, and the SA Independent Commissioner Against Corruption enquiry.
Mental Health Service in South Australia commitments from Opposition Leader Steven Marshall include a pledge to convert part of the recently closed Repatriation General Hospital into a facility for elderly mental health patients.
The Weatherill government also announced a new specialist facility for older people with extreme dementia and enduring mental illness. It committed $14.7 million before the election campaign began in the SA Government response to the SA ICAC’s report on Oakden.
In late February, Aged and Community Services Australia CEO Pat Sparrow called for the issue of workforce training across South Australia to be addressed in public debates held around the election.
“Aged care, and adequate provision and access to care into the future, is a big issue in the state of South Australia where the population is the oldest on the mainland and employment in health and community services is the second-largest area of employment for South Australians,” Ms Sparrow said.
“All levels of government need to get behind industry’s efforts to develop the future aged care workforce and, in turn, grow the South Australian economy and access to essential aged care services with it.”
As the campaigns wrap up and South Australians prepare to go to the polls tomorrow, Ms Sparrow told Australian Ageing Agenda this week that “workforce training has largely been left untouched in the SA election campaign.”
This underscores the importance of work being undertaken at the national level, said Ms Sparrow, a member of the Aged Care Workforce Strategy Taskforce, which is due to report in June on solutions to problems of workforce supply, demand, and productivity in the aged care sector.
Leading Age Services Australia (LASA) CEO Sean Rooney agreed that “specialised aged care training programs with consistent standards must be a priority not only in SA, but nationally.”
Mr Rooney told AAA that priority policy areas for aged care in South Australia include addressing the national queue for home care packages, which sees 11,903 older South Australians (11.4 per cent the national waitlist) waiting for services.
“A sustainable national funding strategy for aged care is required and it is essential that states advocate for this to ensure outcomes for older Australians meet community expectations,” he said.
Meanwhile national dementia peak Dementia Australia sees potential for the next government of South Australia to be “make South Australia a pioneering dementia-friendly society,” said CEO Maree McCabe.
Ms McCabe told AAA that “our research showed that last year dementia care cost South Australians a staggering $1.23 billion dollars.”
“We believe that by working in partnership with the South Australian Government we can reduce these costs while still being able to improve the lives of all people impacted by dementia.”
ACSA and LASA both told AAA that the systems failures revealed by the ICAC report on Oakden, and any response by a South Australian government, carried national significance.
Ms Sparrow said: “The comprehensive account of the failures of care at Oakden identified in the report underscore the importance of having a national accreditation system that works for the protection of older Australians in aged care.
“The community and the industry rely on the proper functioning of the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency for the upkeep of those standards.”
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