The Queensland premier has announced new laws to mandate minimum nurse-to-resident ratios and minimum contact hours by particular care staff in state-owned aged care facilities.
The proposal also includes asking all residential aged care facilities in the state to publish their staffing levels publicly to increase transparency and identifying those who don’t, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said at a press conference on Friday.
Ms Palaszczuk announced the reforms in the wake of the recent closure of Earle Haven Retirement Village and on the same day Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians Richard Colbeck announced an independent inquiry into its unexpected closure (read more here).
Under the incoming laws, Queensland’s 16 state-owned residential aged care facilities will be required to provide a minimum of 3.65 contact hours per resident, said Ms Palaszczuk, who committed to introducing nurse-to-resident during the 2017 election.
Residents will be required to receive 50 per cent of that contact from personal care workers or assistants in nursing, 30 per cent from registered nurses and 20 per cent from enrolled nurses, a spokesperson from the Queensland government told Australian Ageing Agenda.
“We want to see that there are minimum standards when it comes to contact hours with our nurse and our aged care workers across our state, this will be an Australian first,” Ms Palaszczuk said at the press conference.
She said she wanted a public register so families and friends could look at a particular aged care facility and see very clearly whether it offered minimum contact hours.
Queensland’s state-owned facilities will begin quarterly reporting of staffing levels later this year. The figures will be published on a new government website being developed to help consumers compare aged care facilities.
To increase transparency and accountability, Premier Palaszczuk said they would ask all aged care facilities in the state to publish their staffing levels under the reform.
While non-state owned facilities cannot be compelled to comply with the request because they fall under the Commonwealth’s jurisdiction, Ms Palaszczuk said they would publicly identify them.
“If they choose not to, we won’t be afraid to reveal the identity of those unwilling to do the right thing by elderly Queenslanders,” she said.
All aged care facilities will be listed on the website and the staffing level field will be blank for those that do not report their numbers, Premier Palaszczuk said.
Minister for Health and Ambulance Services Steven Miles said it made sense that public and private facilities were on the same playing field when it came to transparency and accountability.
“Staffing is a vital factor when making such a decision – you want to know there are enough people working at the facility to ensure it is providing appropriate care and that staffing levels are safe,” he said.
The Queensland government said it would consult with the broader aged care industry, aged care peak bodies and the Commonwealth Department of Health over the new legislation.
Peaks raise concerns
Industry peak bodies Aged and Community Services Australia and Leading Age Services Australia both raised concerns that mandated staff-to-resident ratios did not necessarily translate into better quality care.
ACSA acting CEO Darren Mathewson said the Queensland government acknowledged in 2018 that staff-to-resident ratios differed across facilities based on the individual and complex needs of residents.
“As Queensland Health Minister, The Hon Dr Steven Miles said in The Australian in September 2018, aged care was ‘more than just a numbers game’. So ACSA is concerned about the nature and language of [this] announcement that seems to fail to acknowledge this,” Mr Mathewson said.
“ACSA acknowledges the call for transparency and more meaningful consumer information, so residents and their families have access to relevant information, however, the federal government is already active in this space. There is a risk of duplication and confusion.”
LASA CEO Sean Rooney said the peak supported providing older Australians with appropriate information to assist them, but said other measures were more useful for the public.
“LASA’s view is that outcome-based measures, particularly those based on direct consumer feedback, are likely to be most useful for consumers to identify which services will best meet their needs,” Mr Rooney said.
“Furthermore, the number and mix of staff in residential care services is determined by a range of factors. Key drivers that determine the levels and mix of staff in residential care facilities include the needs of residents, the design of the buildings and the models of care in place,” he said.
Sharkie introduces aged care bills
Federal member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie introduced a new private member’s bill calling for the quarterly publication of staffing levels on Monday.
Ms Sharkie said the Aged Care Amendment (Staffing Ratio Disclosure) Bill 2019 mirrored her 2018 bill (read our backgrounder here) and added a legislative review, which was recommended by the House Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and sport last year (read more here).
Ms Sharkie also introduced the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission Amendment (Worker Screening Database) Bill 2019, which proposes all aged care staff and volunteers undergo screening and are registered onto a national database operated by the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission.
“[It] seeks to minimise the risk of harm to older Australians from those who work closely with them,” Ms Sharkie said.
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